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Nature News from Jake Sigg
Jake Sigg  	Fri, Jul 2, 2010 at 3:26 PM
To: Jake Sigg 
1.   Job opportunity with LEJ
2.   San Francisco Supervisors must stop Hunters Point disaster
3.   SF transportation disaster - can it be averted by citizens' support for wiser expenditures?
4.   Correction on directions to July 5 Snowy Plover Crissy Field event
5.   Stewardship session in East Bay's Garber Park Tues July 6
6.   Endangered Species Big Year events July 7 and 10
7.   That's the Tuolumne in my Tap:  elementary school education program/rafting the Tuolumne July 17 & 18
8.   Strange politics defeats the lead-shot ban
9.   Gardening from the Ground Up - Wednesdays July 7 - 
10.  Feedback:  Is there life after debt?/Murphy's Law - wrong!/Serpentine as State Rock
11.  Good reason to hate Mondays, an application of (the wrong!) Murphy's Law
12.  Chekhov maxim - a variant of Murphy's Law?
13.  Chronicle story on the CNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt
14.  What is urohydrosis?  Turkey vultures cool off with it
15.  Failed States Index reveals link to rapid population growth
16.  Guest book reviewer on a good summer read:  The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins
17.  Easy to fire a Chief Scrum Master - Inflation in job titles is approaching Weimar levels
18.  Now showing in the western sky - Venus/Summer Triangle
19.  Notes & Queries:  Has science shown that a sense of humor is vital for human survival?

1.  Job opportunity:  Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ)

Title: Youth Program Manager
Compensation: $40,000
The normal workweek for this position is Tuesday-Saturdays.
This position is available immediately.

(I will forward complete job description on request.  LEJ requests no telephone calls or personal appearance.)


2.  Reprinted with permission from Yodeler, newsletter of SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club

San Francisco Supervisors must stop Hunters Point disaster

San Francisco’s current plan for Candlestick Point and Hunters Point would be an environmental disaster:
• a state park would be irreparably damaged;
• a 34-acre wetland-restoration pro­ject would be undermined, along with its attempt to restore threatened bird species;
• the Bayview community would continue to face the on-going threat of pollution from the U.S. Navy dump at Hunters Point.
If the San Francisco Board of Supervisors wants to go ahead with this project, it needs to honestly acknowledge these harms. But further, we believe that a Board equipped with a complete and honest analysis of this damage would reject the project outright.
That’s why the California Environmental Quality Act requires the city to approve an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)—a full and fair evaluation of the project’s impacts—before going ahead, and that’s why the Board must reject the current EIR—a document that flouts both the legal and the ethical requirements.
Nonsense in the EIR
The project proposes to put a six-lane road and bridge through Candlestick Point State Park, carrying buses that produce a 75-decibel noise level, equivalent to being only 50 feet away from a freeway. The EIR claims there would be no aesthetic impact on visitors hoping to have a quiet nature experience in the state park—on the grounds that it is not possible to have an undisturbed nature experience in an urban area! (Evidently the authors have never visited Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, or any of our many nature areas in San Francisco).
The project would put a huge 900-foot long, 81-foot wide bridge with 32 pilings across South Basin (the body of water between Hunters Point and Candlestick Point). This bridge would impact mudflats and wetlands. The federal government calls these “special aquatic sites”, recognizing that mudflats provide a home to more biota (clams, worms, and other invertebrates) per square foot than any other habitat, all of which provide food for fish and birds. Mudflats play a key role in the aquatic food chain. Shading mudflats reduces their ability to sustain life; pilings destroy mudflats. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission considers pile-supported structures in the Bay (e.g. piers and bridges) to be fill because of such impacts. Yet the EIR claims little or no impact from the bridge.
The EIR implausibly claims that an alternate upland route around Yosemite Slough, only six-tenths of a mile longer than the bridge route, would take a bus five more minutes of travel time and thus is not a practical alternative. It’s simply not credible to say it would take five minutes to go basically half a mile, especially as much of this alternate route would be on a dedicated right-of-way from an abandoned railroad line, and buses on this route can have transit-signal priority enabling them to pass through intersections without stopping.
The EIR is required to look at project impacts on the waterbird nesting islands that are to be built as part of a Candlestick State Park wetland restoration project. This project has all its required permits and is ready to go into construction later this year. The islands are designed, in particular, to provide nesting habitat for the threatened western snowy plover. The EIR could not deny that the bridge 100 - 150 feet from the nesting islands and separating them from the Bay would probably have impacts on birds using the islands. Instead it makes the far-fetched assertion that the islands would not attract birds such as the snowy plover—and so skips any analysis of impacts and/or possible mitigations (there evidently aren’t any, other than using the alternate upland route).
The San Francisco Planning Commission recently approved this flawed EIR, even as it admitted that the project as constituted has unavoidable significant impacts that are not mitigable.
• The project would result in increased air pollution, exceeding Bay Area Air Quality Management District standards for health limits, but the Commission puts the blame on regional problems and so presents no solutions. (It could demand that the developer help fund regional air-quality improvements). This means increased air pollution to a community, the Bayview, that already has the worst air in the city and the highest cancer and asthma rates,
• The project would cause increased demand for transit. Eight bus lines would see significant increases in travel time per bus of up to 17 minutes for one line (the 29), and 3 - 8 minutes for the others. The EIR states that more buses would be needed and that the developer would probably pay for some but not all of the costs. In particular, the developer would not pay for drivers for the new buses or for their maintenance. In a city that has just implemented severe service cuts, this does not bode well for the future of transit in this “Transit First” city.
All in all, it’s a pretty shabby EIR filled with unsupported statements (you can’t have an undisturbed nature experience in an urban area), misrepresentations (a bus on a dedicated right-of-way, without passenger stops, and with transit-signal priority will not travel faster than a local bus facing traffic lights, traffic, and passenger stops), and procedural errors (failing to examine an alternative route around Yosemite Slough entirely on a dedicated right-of-way and thus with no competing traffic at all).
   Arthur Feinstein


3.  Howard Wong:  Comment on the Examiner's "From Readers":  "Central Subway project a budget-draining mistake".
Ken Garcia's column also had one sentence about the Central Subway---but unclear?

The Central Subway Project is simply a bad transportation boondoggle that drains much needed funds from immediate transit needs.  Anyone can prove this themselves with a stopwatch.  Consider the most common trip to Market Street and the Powell Street Station.  START at a location in North Beach or Chinatown.  WALK to the future Central Subway Station at Stockton/ Washington Streets.  GO DOWN six stories to the subway platform.  WAIT for the train.  GO UP seven stories from the Union Square Station.  WALK 1,000 feet to the Powell Street Station and Muni Metro/ BART.  COMPARE THIS TRAVEL TIME to a Stockton Street bus ride to Market Street.  In Total Travel Time, buses are faster than the Central Subway!
Also, pity the poor riders who are south of Market Street.  The Central Subway reroutes the T-Line and eliminates direct service to the Ferry Building, ferries, BART, Muni Metro, Embarcadero Station, Montgomery Station, Transbay Terminal, Powell Station, Civic Center Station and the entire Market Street Corridor. 
Instead, imagine how $1.5 billion could transform the entire Muni System, create hundreds of miles of beautiful transit streets and generate thousands of jobs much more quickly.  Howard Wong, San Francisco

(Howard:  After a fashion, I understand how politics works to produce these boondoggles, but this one is so patently absurd and outlandish as to beggar belief.  Why is it not laughed out of court?  At some point, Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein are going to see that this is untenable.  Jake)

Hi Jake:At the federal levels, i.e. Federal Transit Agency, the higher echelons have been challenging local transit agencies to better their transit service through simple measures like creating bus-only lanes with inexpensive paint.  Also, smaller transit agencies are begging the FTA to allow diversion of federal dollars to their cash-strapped transit operations.  So, this is the moment to lend citizens' support for wiser expenditures for large transportation monies.


4.  Correction on directions for July 5 Snowy Plover Crissy Field event
Hi, Jake, The driving directions (courtesy Google) given for the July 5 Snowy Plover Crissy Field event to get to Mason and Pearce Streets are incorrect for vehicles, because there is a gate behind the Warming Hut that blocks through traffic from the Long Avenue approach.  I've notified Google.

Drivers need to continue along Lincoln to McDowell, go downhill to Crissy Field Avenue. Turn left in front of the Pet Cemetery, then hard right and immediate hard left onto "Mason" -- continue along the warehouses to #937. That's where Pearce Street is, but there is no sign saying so. Pearce is now the NOAA/Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary "Authorized Vehicles Only" driveway, so please do not enter! You can find parking near the warehouses, or in the West Bluff parking lot further along the road near the Warming Hut. 

Better yet, take public transit! Golden Gate and Muni go to the Bridge Toll Plaza and from there you can walk downhill, or catch the PresidioGo shuttle for the long way around, scenic route.  Mary Jane Schramm, NOAA


5.  Stewardship Session in Garber Park

Tuesday, July 6th, 10:00 AM - 12 Noon
Evergreen Lane Entrance to Garber Park

We will continue our cape ivy removal at our restoration site at the Evergreen Lane entrance to Garber Park, as well as perform light maintenance on the loop trail in the park.

Directions: From Alvarado Rd, take Slater Lane, then turn right on Evergreen Ln. The entrance is at the end of the street.  This is in easy walking distance from Alvarado Road. Directions to Garber Park can also be found at  Garber Park is a 13 acre woodland park behind the Claremont Hotel, on the south side of Claremont Ave., owned by the City of Oakland.  The trail that loops through the park leads us by beautiful old oaks, bays, bigleaf maples, as well as an old WPA-era stone fireplace
Please bring gloves, wear sturdy shoes for walking, and a shirt with long sleeves as we may encounter some poison oak.
For questions and information please contact Shelagh Brodersen by email:


6.  Endangered Species Big Year events

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Join the Presidio Park Stewards and Michael Chassé of the National Park Service in Lobos Creek Valley to help restore habitat for the San Francisco Lessingia. Meet at the Presidio Transit Center, 215 Lincoln Blvd. at Graham Street, San Francisco, CA 94129, across from the Fire Station and near the Presidio Main Post. RSVP: Call 415-561-2857 or email michael_chasse[at]nps[dot]gov. Part of the GGNP Endangered Species Big Year, a race against time to see and save the Park’s endangered species. For more info: and see the calendar for upcoming Big Year trips and activities.

Saturday, July 10, 2010, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Join Michael Chassé of the National Park Service to restore Crissy Field Marsh and create habitat for reintroduction of the endangered California Seablite. Meet at the Presidio Transit Center, 215 Lincoln Blvd at Graham Street, San Francisco, CA 94129, across from the Fire Station and near the Presidio Main Post. RSVP: Call 415-561-2857 or email michael_chasse[at]nps[dot]gov. Part of the GGNP Endangered Species Big Year, a race against time to see and save the Park’s endangered species. See for more information.


7.  That's the Tuolumne in my Tap

Tuolumne River Trust is gearing up for the second year of our elementary school education program called "That's the Tuolumne in my Tap" -   We visit 4th and 5th grade classrooms in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties.  Last year we reached more than 2,700 students in over 100 classrooms, and this year we plan to do even more.  We're looking for a few corporate sponsors to help us expand the program, so if you have any leads, please pass them along.  We also will be training volunteers to help give the slideshow, so if you're interested in attending one of our trainings, please let me know.

Rafting on the South Fork American River

Friends of the River will be hosting two rafting/camping weekends this summer.  The first will be on July 17 & 18.  For more information, please visit  The second trip will be on August 21 & 22.  For more information, please visit


8.  From Eric Mills:  DEFEAT OF AB 2223 (NAVA) - LEAD SHOT, June 30, 2010

Disappointing news to report.  Assemblyman Pedro Nava's bill failed yesterday on re-consideration, in a vote of 3:4 (5 needed for passage).
Voting AYE:  Fran Pavley, Christine Kehoe, Alan Lowenthal (all Democrats)
Voting NO:  Dave Cogdill, Dennis Hollingsworth, Bob Huff (all Republicans); Lois Wolk (Democrat)
Abstaining:  Alex Padilla and Joe Simitian (both Democrats).

Boggling the mind, Ms. Wolk and Mr. Simitian both voted AYE on AB 2223 in a previous vote last week.  Go figure.  All these people need to hear from us.
In the Old Days, the Senate was generally more pro-animal/environment than the Assembly.  No more, it seems.  Too sad.  AB 2223 passed the Assembly floor, 46:27 (without a single Republican vote).

NOTE:  Check the list of opposition on the committee analysis (, a veritable Rogues Gallery, all with vested interests in the status quo, the environment be damned:
California Association of Firearms Retailers
California Outdoor Heritage Alliance
California Rifle and Pistol Association
California Dept. of Fish & Game
National Rifle Association
National Shooting Sports Foundation
Outdoor Sportsmen's Coalition of California
Safari Club International
The California Sportsman's Lobby
one individual


> Eric:  Dept of Fish & Game has vested interests in the status quo on lead shot?  Educate me.  Jake
Hey, Jake - Go to, type in "AB 2223" on the bill search, and read the committee analysis, and pro/con arguments.  One of those from DFG was that they feared there would be fewer hunters purchasing the higher-priced non-lead ammo, resulting in less revenue for the Department from hunting license sales.  Surely environmental protection trumps that argument.  Sadly, the hunting community has been largely co-opted by the NRA, in my opinion (and that of many others, hunters and non-hunters alike).


9.  Gardening from the Ground Up -- Wednesdays, July 7 - 28
Learn to let your garden bring you easy enchantment with nature-friendly methods.  Discover the beauty of native California plants and become captivated by their ability to attract songbirds, butterflies, hummingbirds and other fascinating creatures.  Learn the basics of horticultural know-how, site analysis, composting, wildlife habitat, and easy, sustainable ways to promote a year round healthy, environmentally friendly garden.  Gorgeous slide shows, inspiring ecology readings and a ffield trip on Saturday 7/31      510-594-2655,    510-526-3593


10.  Feedback

Peter Rauch:
At 13:35 10/06/28, you wrote:
9.   Is there life after debt?
Jake,  Dunno.  But, I've been told by "authorities" that there is debt after life unless we pay up now. Whaddaya think ?

"Pray for us sinners now and at the hour..." (saying)
[In response to "Economists turn over together."    (saying)]

Ian Wilson:
> Re 9. Is there life after debt? here's an interesting chart from Niall Ferguson, who teaches both business administration and history at Harvard, and has been a vociferous supporter of the American empire in the past:  According to Ferguson, the chart "looks at defense expenditure and debt service as percentages of federal revenues since the 1960s. Those lines are going to cross soon. Within, I would say, the next six years, interest payments on the federal debt will exceed the defense budget. I think one of the clearest lessons of history is that that is a major turning point for any power—from Spain in the 17th century, the Netherlands in the 18th century, through the Turks in the 19th century, and the British in the 20th century. When you’re spending more on your debt than on your army or your navy, it’s all over as a great power."
> In the same presentation he says that "by 2040, unless there’s a radical change of course, the United States will be spending over 20 percent of GDP on interest payments on the federal debt. Guess what, that’s exactly the percentage of GDP that the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, estimates will be raised as tax revenue by the federal government. Once again, you don’t need a PhD in economics to do this math. That implies that by 2040, unless we radically change course, all federal tax revenues will be consumed by debt service."
> His presentation, with .pdfs of the transcript and charts, is here:
> The US national debt has now reached USD13+ trillion, and the debt per taxpayer is almost $120,000. See e.g. or
> The US national debt is forecast to be 100% of US GDP by next year:
> The decline of the US is interesting from the historical perspective, it's just unfortunate that we have to witness it.
WITNESS it?  Ian, you're a participant.  Fasten your seatbelt.

Long before the 2008 meltdown, dire scenarios were being written about the national debt and the fact that interest on this debt, plus other non-discretionary spending such as defense, would eat up all revenue.  I have been worrying about this for a couple of decades; the reaction to the meltdown pushed my concerns off the charts.  Chances are I will not be alive by the time the bleep hits the fan--and lucky me, not having to be around.  

I give Obama low marks on this score.  He was in a difficult position, and he probably didn't have any choice over the first stimulus spending.  Regardless of whether he had a choice or not, he should never have even considered a second round of spending.  It makes me wonder about his judgment.  Does he really think the economy will boom again to produce the revenue to pay the debts we've run up?  I tend to make excuses for people in difficult jobs; I credited him (for no other reason than because he is so smart) with knowing that the economy is not going to recover, that we're at a historic turning point which will require drastic changes in direction, in expectations, and about the way we go about doing things.  Now I'm wondering if he perhaps really does believe that the economy will recover, and sufficiently to pay off these mind-numbing debts.  Regardless of what he thinks he will be unable to increase spending; Republicans, scared Democratic congressmembers, plus the Tea Party, will prevent his spending more.  However, there is only one possible way we can pay off existing debt:  inflation.  That may happen.

Donald Robertson:
> Jake, I can personally attest that there _is_ life after debt.  Some seventeen years ago, I had $20,000+ in credit card debt.  With a little help from a new girl friend (with whom I am still a partner), I started a regime of paying $100 per month over the minimum payment every month, and maintained it (more or less) until all my cards were completely paid off.  I was amazed at how rich I was without that monthly "tax" of credit card interest.  To this date, I have always paid off my credit card debt each month.
> I recommend similar regimes to others, individual, corporate, and government.  One other thought:  one of the reasons I can survive unemployment now is because I have no debt outside of my house.  Any unnecessary interest payments now would be a financial disaster for me.
Congratulations, Donald, for kicking the habit.  Of course, you realize that you're subverting the system.  If everybody did what you did the economy would collapse.
(Tongue only partially in cheek.)  Jake
> While there would be hardship in the immediate future, I'm not so sure the economy would not be better off if all that money now going into propping up banks to make bazillionaires richer were instead used in R&D, improved plant, developing better mousetraps for export, and even space exploration-- all productive activities that could improve our economy.
> The money I used to spend on credit card interest now gets spent on products and services that employ other people -- to the degree that I can manage it, these products and services are made in USA.
Possibly, but that may be only theoretical.  

Ever since the second world war we have been developing an economic system that rips off the future (as well as the past).  Look, eg, at Social Security and our national debt.  Both are predicated on every day being bigger than the day before.  The huge debts built up--at least until the meltdown in 2008--were to be paid by the increased revenues from a constantly expanding economy and from a constantly increasing population.  Thoughtful people have been noting this inner contradiction and its unsustainability for a long time.  Everyone else has been having a riotous good time like there was no tomorrow.  Only now, the bleep has been hitting the fan.  (Some recipients of my newsletter have filters that don't let through the word for the stuff that hits the fan.  I'll see if bleep works.)  

That is why where we and the world goes from here is going to be exceedingly interesting and exceedingly painful.  The standard nostrum for our current troubles is "we've got to get the economy moving again", "when the economy picks up again", &c.  This is politician talk for "I haven't the slightest idea how we're going to get out of this horrible mess", and the chief practitioner, of course, is the president.  I don't know whether he knows the deep trouble we're in or not, but the poor guy has no choice:  there is no politically acceptable alternative.

Well, I can see I'm off on another tangent, so had better close.  Keep subverting; it was a rotten system to begin with.

Phil Van Soelen:
> Dear Jake - Israel bashing could perhaps accurately be called the latest manifestation of the Dreyfus affair. 
> That doest mean we can never ever criticize Israel, much like the spirit behind America, love it or leave it.
> Even though the issues are almost to complex to fathom, a state that promotes within a mixture of race, religion & culture (modern Israel) at the expense of "others", is not that different from other racist states in history.
> Jake:  About number 20.  Israel bashing in France and elsewhere is the latest manifestation of the Dreyfus affair.

Cynthia Anderson (referring to soggy Examiners wrapped in plastic that ensures they get soaked, even on foggy days):
> I, too, was amazed that the Examiner always arrived in an unreadable condition, so I decided to unsubscribe.  It was very hard; six weeks of variously calling and/or emailing as instructed did nothing.  I finally realized that it was important for the Examiner to count me as a subscriber in order to keep their advertisers happy.  When I expressed my outrage at this deception in a call to them, the paper stopped.  One year later, it started up again.  I guess they hoped I had moved.  One call was enough in the second round; I suspect it will be an annual event, but well worth my time to keep it from coming.

Elkhorn (re Presidential Harrisment in SciAm):
> Quite a fun article, but not findable on Scientific American's site. Not likely that Mirsky ever published it. Somebody was having fun that day.
It was Steve Mirsky who was having fun that day.  I read it first in the magazine, then copied it off the SciAm site on the internet, so that is what you read.  
> Jake - thanks for the link.  earlier today, when I used their site search, it didn't come up with anything even close. but if you go to your link, and click on the blue-highlighted title, you can get the entire article.  see:  

Peter Baye:
> Jake, thanks for covering Romero’s SB 624 proposal to rescind serpentinite as the state rock, and providing the convenient link to her website. I submitted the following comment to her website.
> Senate Bill 624 may be based on the scientifically erroneous assumption that all serpentinite (serpentine rocks and derived soils) contains asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos is a mineral that is specific to particular serpentine formations and outcrops, and does not occur in all serpentinite in biologically significant quantities. Unless mined and refined, there is no evidence that serpentine rocks in natural areas under vegetation cover pose any threat to human health. Please consult qualified geologists and human health experts to verify your assumptions.

Dear Honorable Senator Romero:
                                  Just a quick note and point of information regarding California's State Rock.....serpentinite..........The asbestos that very few of the outcrops contain in this state, is of the Chrysotile type, composed of too short a fiber to cause the Mesothelioma cancers, properly associated with the Amphibole type found in the Eastern United States......which is where the John's-Manville lawsuits are located......i think before you and your colleagues proceed, it would be informative to contact one of the most knowledgeable of scientists on the subject....Dr. Ronald Coleman.....Emeritus Professor of Geology at Stanford University...........In addition, the many types of serpentine, including Talc, soapstone and Jade, are also home to hundreds of California's endemic plant species, found no where else and most quite rare, as representatives of California's floristic bounty, as well as its people...... like state senators.........Thank you for your attention to this matter
                                                       Stewart Winchester
                                                                                                                                                Professor Environmental 
Diablo Valley College 

Michael Alexander:
> Jake,  Murphy’s Law
>          What can go wrong will go wrong
>          Left to themselves, things will go from bad to worse
>          Nature always hides within a hidden flaw
> False, false, false!!!
> What Ed Murphy actually said was "If there are two ways to do a job and one of them will end in disaster, then someone will do it that way." Murphy was an aeronautical engineer involved in the early tests to break the sound barrier. He believed that we are capable of having control of what we do, not a fatalist who assumes that shit always happens. Why he said it is too long to tell here, but he was always offended that his widely reported admonition to be careful was quickly turned into the catchier phrase that is your first line, and then added to by marketeers who needed something else to add to t-shirts, your other lines.
> How do I know? In the early 1980s, my wife and I interviewed and photographed Murphy in his Los Angeles home for a story for a major national magazine. We all then drove to Pacific Palisades for lunch with Lawrence Peter, author of the Peter Principle.
Thank you, Michael.  Strange to say, a few years ago I did post to my newsletter a short story on the true Murphy's Law, stating, in effect, pretty much what you have written--without your personal connection, which I didn't know about.  I have lost that version, probably when I changed computers and programs in 2008 (itself a manifestation of the Law in my mind--pace, Mr Murphy, Mr Alexander).  

I do want to respect Mr Murphy, and I understand his frustration and anger.  Nevertheless, Michael, the bastardized version you're objecting to carries too much truth experienced by people to be brushed aside--not to mention that it would be impossible to stamp out the bastard version, which is as common in conversation as the weather.  So at risk of sounding heartless or disrespectful I say to Mr Murphy:  "Get used to it".  

(See next item:  Good reason to hate Mondays)

Having said that, I do want to preserve and disseminate the true version, because that's important, too.  Please rest in peace, Mr Murphy, it's the way of the world.  

P.S.  And thank you, Michael, for the true version.  Now, on to the Peter Principle.  See how we can mangle that one.


11.  Good reason to hate Mondays
The time-honored phenomenon of Sod's Law, which dictates that a slice of toast when dropped always falls butter side down, is statistically likely to strike most on Mondays.  That is according to a pointless but fun analysis of 2,226 sufferers by an insurance company's presumably under-worked employees.  Their survey found that all the little irritations of life--power cuts, empty cash dispensers, minor cuts, and so on--were overwhelmingly likely to happen on Mondays.
The survey failed to take account of Murphy's Law, an extension of Sod's Law, stating that the slice of toast will indeed fall butter side down, save when dropped for the purpose of proving this truth.  Guardian Weekly


12.  Anton Chekhov maxim:  If a gun is hanging on the wall in the first act, it will always go off by the play's end.


13.  Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan recently published by the San Francisco Chronicle on the CNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt.


14.  Fun from the California Academy of Sciences:

Q.  The turkey vulture, one of three raptors in the Academy's West Garden aviary, has an interesting way of cooling off on hot days: urohydrosis. What is urohydrosis?
a) urinating on the feet
b) excreting salt through the nostrils
c) swishing water in the beak

A.  If you are a frequent visitor to our rainforest you might be thinking “I’ve never seen a vulture in there.” You’re right again! Our vulture lives out in the West Garden adjacent to the building. However, turkey vultures range from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. They inhabit a huge diversity of habitats, including tropical rainforests.

They are scavengers that feed almost exclusively on carrion and are one of the few birds that have a developed sense of smell. In fact, that excellent sense of smell allows them to utilize rainforest habitat, as they have an alternative to searching for food by sight only. Other neotropical vulture species that don’t have that developed sense of smell will observe turkey vultures and follow them to food sources.

Turkey vultures have a unique defense mechanism – they will regurgitate their meal in an effort to startle a predator and quickly reduce their body weight so that they can fly away faster. Turkey vultures also have an interesting way of keeping cool during hot days – they urinate on their feet! This is called ‘urohydrosis’, and causes the white coloration seen on their legs.



    * Annual Failed States Index Reveals Link to Rapid Population Growth
      Every year Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace release a Failed States Index that offers a detailed assessment of which nations are on the verge of failing. This year's list of the top failing states does not contain many surprises. They include such headline-grapping failures as Somalia, Sudan Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One thing they all have in common is rapid and unsustainable population growth. The Failed States Index rated every one of the top ten failed states for "demographic pressures" at 8.1 or higher on a scale of 1-10. Somalia and Zimbabwe, the top two failed states, ranked 9.6 and 9.4, respectively. The total population of the top ten failed states is estimated at 397 million in 2009, and it is expected to double by 2050.

For more information visit:


16.  (Some time ago I posted an item about FDR's secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.  Here is a book review by friend Jeanne Halpern.)


Who was the first woman to become a United States cabinet officer, and what did she accomplish?  To find answers to these questions – and information as relevant today as it was during the Great Depression – read The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins – Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Minimum Wage by Kirstin Downey, Anchor Books, 2009.  Perkins has been called “one of the most significant figures in the Age of Roosevelt,” and this book shows why.
Much more than a factual biography of an extraordinary woman in extraordinary times, the book explains how Perkins – a wife and mother beset by extreme domestic challenges – achieved a radical restructuring of American society from 1933, when she was appointed by FDR as the first female Secretary of Labor, through World War II.  Her influence persisted until her death in 1965.  
So detailed is the writing that in many scenes, I could hear voices from past speak; I could feel their intensity.  One example.  At the height of the July 1934 Waterfront Strike in San Francisco, which had spread along the whole West Coast and then turned into a general strike throughout the City, Perkins was pressured by the ship owners and by California Governor Frank Merriam to bring in federal troops. 
Since Roosevelt was away, Secretary of State Cordell Hull was standing in for the President.  When he called Perkins, “his tone made it clear he considered the problem very serious.”  But Perkins had just been told that federal negotiators were working hard to make peace in San Francisco. 
“Yes, it’s unfortunate,” she told Hull. “We think it will soon be over and that there’s not much more to it.”  But Hull viewed the events as most serious, and, as acting president, he told Perkins he intended to “take severe and drastic steps immediately.”  Through quick, decisive action, Perkins held back the army.  In so doing, she changed what could have been combat in city streets into negotiation, and in the process revitalized the union movement.
Such was the drama of Perkins’s life and so thorough is Downey’s documentation that I missed only one thing that would have made the book a sheer pleasure: more psychological insight.  How did a woman like Perkins survive continuous attacks, including the 1939 attempt to impeach her, and yet continue helping her country for the rest of her life?   
From our 2010 point of view, this book not only shows how much has changed vis-a-vis women in Washington but also how much has stayed the same in times of economic crisis.  The book reads like a manual of how to muster social programs to help the people most injured.  And it also suggests that “the Party of No” might possibly be roused again to involve itself in improving government.  Read The Woman Behind the New Deal and learn much more than you expect about our own times.

Too many chiefs
Inflation in job titles is approaching Weimar levels
The Economist, Jun 24th 2010

KIM JONG IL, the North Korean dictator, is not normally a trendsetter. But in one area he is clearly leading the pack: job-title inflation. Mr Kim has 1,200 official titles, including, roughly translated, guardian deity of the planet, ever-victorious general, lodestar of the 21st century, supreme commander at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism and the United States, eternal bosom of hot love and greatest man who ever lived.

When it comes to job titles, we live in an age of rampant inflation. Everybody you come across seems to be a chief or president of some variety. Title inflation is producing its own vocabulary: “uptitling” and “title-fluffing”. It is also producing technological aids. One website provides a simple formula: just take your job title, mix in a few grand words, such as “global”, “interface” and “customer”, and hey presto.

The rot starts at the top. Not that long ago companies had just two or three “chief” whatnots. Now they have dozens, collectively called the “c-suite”. A few have more than one chief executive officer; CB Richard Ellis, a property-services firm, has four. A growing number have chiefs for almost everything from knowledge to diversity. Southwest Airlines has a chief Twitter officer. Coca-Cola and Marriott have chief blogging officers. Kodak has one of those too, along with a chief listening officer.

Even so, chiefs are relatively rare compared with presidents and their various declensions (vice-, assistant-, etc). Almost everybody in banking from the receptionist upwards is a president of some sort. The number of members of LinkedIn, a professional network, with the title vice-president grew 426% faster than the membership of the site as a whole in 2005-09. The inflation rate for presidents was 312% and for chiefs a mere 275%.

Title-fluffing is as rampant among the indians as among the chiefs. America’s International Association of Administrative Professionals—formerly the National Secretaries Association—reports that it has more than 500 job-titles under its umbrella, ranging from front-office co-ordinator to electronic-document specialist. Paper boys are “media distribution officers”. Binmen are “recycling officers”. Lavatory cleaners are “sanitation consultants”. Sandwich-makers at Subway have the phrase “sandwich artist” emblazoned on their lapels. Even the normally linguistically pure French have got in on the act: cleaning ladies are becoming “techniciennes de surface” (surface technicians).

What is going on here? The most immediate explanation is the economic downturn: bosses are doling out ever fancier titles as a substitute for pay raises and bonuses. But there are also structural reasons for the trend. The most basic is the growing complexity of businesses. Many not only have presidents and vice-presidents for this or that product line, but also presidents and vice-presidents for various regions. Put the two together and you have a recipe for ever-longer business cards: vice-president for photocopiers Asia-Pacific, for example.

The cult of flexibility is also inflationary. The fashion for flattening hierarchies has had the paradoxical effect of multiplying meaningless job titles. Workers crave important-sounding titles to give them the illusion of ascending the ranks. Managers who no longer have anyone to manage are fobbed off with inflated titles, much as superannuated politicians are made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or Lord President of the Council. Everybody, from the executive suite downward, wants to fluff up their résumé as a hedge against being sacked.

Firms also use fancy job titles to signal that they are au fait with the latest fashion. The fad for greenery is producing legions of chief sustainability officers and green ambassadors. BP’s travails will undoubtedly have the same effect: we can expect a bull market in chief safety officers and chief apology officers.

The American technology sector has been a champion of title inflation. It has created all sorts of newfangled jobs that have to be given names, and it is also full of linguistically challenged geeks who have a taste for “humorous” titles. Steve Jobs calls himself “chief know it all”. Jerry Yang and David Filo, the founders of Yahoo!, call themselves “chief Yahoos”. Thousands of IT types dub themselves things like (chief) scrum master, guru, evangelist or, a particular favourite at the moment, ninja.

But leadership in title inflation, as in so much else, is passing to the developing world, particularly India and China. Both countries have a longstanding obsession with hierarchy (fancy job titles can be the key to getting a bride as well as the admiration of your friends). They also have tight labour markets. The result is an explosion of titles. Companies have taken to creating baffling jobs such as “outbound specialist”. They have also taken to staging public celebrations of promotions from, say, assistant deputy director to principal assistant deputy director.

Inflated benefits, understated drawbacks

Does any of this matter? Title inflation clearly does violence to the language. But isn’t that par for the course in the corporate world? And isn’t it a small price to pay for corporate harmony? The snag is that the familiar problems of monetary inflation apply to job-title inflation as well. The benefits of giving people a fancy new title are usually short-lived. The harm is long-lasting. People become cynical about their monikers (particularly when they are given in lieu of pay rises). Organisations become more Ruritanian. The job market becomes more opaque. How do you work out the going rate for “vision controller of multiplatform and portfolio” (the BBC)? Or a “manager of futuring and innovation-based strategies” (the American Cancer Society)?

And, far from providing people with more security, fancy titles can often make them more expendable. Companies might hesitate before sacking an IT adviser. But what about a chief scrum master? The essence of inflation, after all, is that it devalues everything that it touches.


18.  I was walking home last night and gasped at the unexpected sight of brilliant Venus in the clear (!) western sky, while overhead was the Summer Triangle (more about this later).  I thought about putting a note in this newsletter, but decided that bringing it to your attention would tempt the gods to invoke Murphy's Law (see above) and put an end to our stretch of dry, sunny weather.  Instead, the gods launched a preemptive strike and brought the fog back even without this temptation.  Well, Venus is worth attention anyway, and some readers may not be cut off from the sky, so I mention it.


19.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

A pleasing aberration
Has science shown that a sense of humour is vital for human survival?

No. Science says a sense of humour is an aberration, whereas a sense of the absurd ensures procreation.
Elizabeth Wagner, Featherston, New Zealand

• I doubt it, but have no doubt that it makes the prospect of survival more appealing.
George H Shaw, Schenectady, New York, US

• You must be joking, but I can't prove it.
George Bruce Levine, Gozo, Malta
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