Plant Trees SF Events 2008 Archive: 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024


1.   White-crowned Sparrow Habitat Work Party - tomorrow, October 16
2.   Join Jill Fox for a walk on the India Basin shoreline - October 16
3.   More information on San Francisco's LED streetlight proposal - I wonder whether we'll regret this
4.   Nature in the City Gala Fundraiser November 6
5.   Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition - Creeks & Watershed Conference Nov 6
6.   Youth Stewardship Program annual Kick-off!  October 20.  Teachers:  free environmental ed
7.   Hear an independent report on Baylands environmental remediation on Tuesday, October 19th.
8.   SF Natural History Series:  The Country in the City - the Greening of the SF Bay Area - Oct 21
9.   Foraging Behavior in Large Wading Birds - October 21
10. Schwarzenegger line-items budget item for High Speed Rail
11. Whale poop ups productivity of ocean fisheries - contrary to belief
12. Feedback
13. The sky:  Venus Belt / Manhattanhenge
14.  More about ravens and crows
15.  Curbing population growth - curb emissions 1/3?
16.  Downscaling climate models to inform management actions workshop November 3
17.  The Watershed Nursery's Fall Native Plant Sale October 22-24
18.  Parasites living off journalism produced by others - eg, Huffington Post
19.  Squid fly?  Yes, they do
20.  Plants think?  A new view of plants
21.  Scientific American - various
22.  A microbiologist makes it as copy writer for a brewery
23.  Why the West’s present dominance is both recent and temporary
24.  Texas elected the wrong governor.  Kinky Friedman redux

1.  Sparrow Habitat Work Party in GG Park, Sat Oct 16!

 Bison Paddock Nutall's White-crowned Sparrow Habitat Work Party
Saturday  October 16
 A project of Golden Gate Park, SF Recreation and Parks Department
       Partners: Nature in the City , Golden Gate Audubon, SF Parks Trust
  Work continues at the bison paddock this month as we tend to hundreds of successfully establishing native plants. We will be tracking down the invasive nasties including perennial grasses like Kukuyu and Purple Velvet Grass. We will be yanking Himalayan Blackberry but favoring our native California Blackberry, one the best for nesting songbirds.
    But if planting is more your speed, perhaps you can help us to connect the dots and expand this expanding lair for GG Parks largest population of Nutall's White-crowned Sparrows. This is after all the prime time to get plants in the ground.
    A group of SF State environmental studies students will be stopping in. It is a great opportunity for them to hear the perspectives of local naturalists.
  Meet 9 am at the Bison Paddock Fence along JFK


2.  Jill Fox:
Join me for a Walk on the Waterfront:
Saturday October 16, 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
Meet at Heron’s Head Park, Cargo & Jennings
FREE. Join the India Basin Neighborhood Association (IBNA) on a 3-mile flat walk along the beautiful shoreline & hear about the Community Vision for the future. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has created a DRAFT Plan for the 76-acre India Basin Shoreline — from the PG&E Power Plant to the Hunters Point Shipyard — that changes: Zoning, Building Heights,Transportation, and Housing Density. Their plan calls for 1200 housing units. Meanwhile, the IBNA Community Vision includes ideas that take advantage of this unique location and include active recreation and entertainment areas, jobs and business opportunities, boating center, community farm, dog park, skate park, and family homes. Find details on
The walk begins and ends at Heron’s Head Park, with 8 informational stops. Wear sturdy shoes. All invited.  

In case you missed it, Carl Nolte wrote an article about India Basin in the SF Chronicle. Here’s the link:


3.  Dave Goggin:

It's encouraging that SFPUC has decided to use LED street lights that are fully shielded.  And at 4100K, the color of light would be somewhat better than the 5000K - 6000K used in several of the demonstration installations around the city.

But 4100K white light still contains a lot of blue light.

And that 4100K color point is still far above the 3000K maximum recommended by the International Dark-Sky Association!

A major concern of many people involved in the study of the environmental impacts of outdoor lighting is that, at even the 4100K color point and with full shielding, the portion of artificial sky glow due to street lighting may actually increase, not decrease.

That's because the benefit of reduction of direct uplight spill by full shielding may be negated by the much larger amount of blue light reflecting off the ground as compared to existing sodium (i.e. orange - 2100K) lighting.   The atmosphere strongly preferentially scatters blue wavelengths and the human eye is also much more sensitive to these blue wavelengths in dark-adapted conditions.

Please read this recently-published summary article for full details on the various issues with blue-rich white light, including visibility, aging-eye adaptation, glare, and circadian rhythm disruption.

Shouldn't such an environmentally conscious city as San Francisco adopt the IDSA's 3000K color temperature recommendation -- along with full shielding -- for all new and replacement street lighting?

JS:  Dave:  I will post, but this technical information is likely to leave people unmotivated to do anything.  And is there anything that can be done now?  It sounds like it may be a done deal.  Not so?

Hi Jake, You're right - it is a bit technical.  However, as the dark-sky movement has broadened and become more scientifically sophisticated, it is being realized that fully shielding fixtures is only part of the overall picture.  Partly that's because the term 'light pollution' has expanded far beyond its original meaning of artificial sky glow and now includes light trespass, glare, clutter, etc. and also because the effects of artificial light at night are now known to extend far beyond merely affecting astronomers to include numerous ecological, visibility, energy, sociologic, and even human health impacts.

I've been very busy lately and haven't had a chance to follow SFPUC agendas to see where the approvals process is.  I have been trying to provide information to SFPUC and Planning Dept. staff, though.  If enough people show up and speak out at commission meetings, that may help show the decision-makers that the light color issue is important to the local environmental community not just to a few lighting design nerds.

The article I linked really gives a good summary that should be understandable to most well-educated environmentalists.


4.  Nature in the City Gala Fundraiser November 6, 2010

If you've ever wanted to save the planet, but were just too busy, now's your chance. You can start by saving San Francisco's natural heritage! Nature in the City, the only organization wholly dedicated to saving native and natural San Francisco invites you to attend its 2nd annual Gala on Saturday, November 6th from 6 to 10 pm at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. 

A party of delicious proportions is planned for all! 

Dinner catered by Radio Africa. Wines provided by J. Lohr.  Beer by the Beach Chalet.  Coffee by Blue Bottle.  

Head on over to to reserve your tickets. Bring your nature loving friends!

Call 415-564-4107 with questions or visit


5.  Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition - 2010 Creeks & Watershed Conference
November 6th, 2010 8:00am – 5:00pm
3369 Union Av, San Jose

We begin at 8:00 am with a welcome spread of light breakfast items and some time to network with the exhibitors before the formal conference gets underway at 9:00. The theme of this year’s event is “DAMS: – Beaver Fever and Concrete Regrets”.
This year Ken Yeager, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is joining us to speak and answer some of your questions. 
As usual we will have an outstanding lineup of speakers and activities and the opportunity to learn what others are doing to bring back our streams.
Potential Exhibitors should contact soon as space will be limited.  Preregistration is required and can be accessed online at:

This is a free event but we do ask you to donate $6.00 to help cover our cost for food.


6.  Youth Stewardship Program annual Kick-off!
We would like to invite any San Francisco teachers who are interested to learn more about our program's free environmental education and restoration field trips in our city's Natural Areas. We serve classes from 3rd - 12th Grade.

The Randall Museum (Buckley Room)
199 Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94114-1429
on Wednesday, October 20, 2010, from 4pm - 6:30pm


7.  The Brisbane Baylands Community Advisory Group (BBCAG) invites you to hear an independent report on Baylands environmental remediation on Tuesday, October 19th.     7-9 PM at the Communinty Center, 250 Visitacion Avenue, First (ground) Floor, Brisbane 94005

The Environmental Quality Consulting firm  G. Fred Lee and Associates was commissioned by the BBCAG with funds from the Northern California Grassroots Environmental Fund to review existing conditions and planned remediation relating to redevelopment of the Baylands.    Dr. Lee and his wife Anne-Jones Lee have been studying and reporting on these matters for over thirty years.   More information can be seen at

The report and PowerPoint slides are available on line for review prior to the meeting at these sites:
Public Transit: San Mateo bus route 292 Passes nearby. Use the Bayshore/Old County Stop

San Francisco Natural History Series 
The Country in the City - the Greening of the SF Bay Area 
Guest Speaker: Professor Richard Walker
7:30pm, Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Professor Richard Walker of University of California Berkeley, brings together the many stories of land preservation, saving the bay, and fighting toxics that have made the San Francisco Bay Area a global bastion of environmentalism.

FREE; donations encouraged. 
Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way 
Info:  415.554.9600 or 

More information about Professor Walker:
More information about his book:

November 18 -- What Are We Managing For? Restoration Strategies  (Josiah Clark)


9.  Golden Gate Audubon Society program
Foraging Behavior in Large Wading Birds

Jeffery Martin
Green Heron Foraging. Photo by Jeff Martin.
Berkeley: Thursday, October 21, 2010
7 p.m. refreshments, 7:30 p.m. program
Jeff Martin’s entertaining presentation features his close-up video photography illustrating numerous forms of foraging behavior in large wading birds. Ornithologists have identified as many as 30 or more different foraging strategies. These often curious, odd, surprising, and humorous behaviors are intriguing and fun to watch. Filmed across many locations and habitats in Florida and California, 17 species will be shown, including Wood Stork, American Bittern, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Anhinga, Little Blue Heron, Reddish Egret, and Tri-colored Heron. Jeff has recorded head tilting, neck swaying, tactile feeding, fish tossing, wing flicking, and many other strategies used by wading birds. His presentation will link these many behaviors to natural history and function.
Jeff Martin is a clinical psychologist in private practice and an associate clinical professor at UCSF School of Medicine. By avocation, he is a naturalist/photographer and nature educator. He has conducted interpretive talks, created literature, and produced photographic programs and an exhibit for Point Reyes National Seashore as well as a wildlife rehabilitation training film for interns at Wildcare in San Rafael. An avid birder, Jeff has devised and led programs for organizations and schools.

Speaker programs are free and held on the third Thursday each month, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Join us at 7:00 p.m. for a half-hour of socializing and refreshments.
Berkeley programs are held at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda (between Solano and Marin).


10.  Planning & Conservation League

On the heels of several critical reports from the Legislative Analyst Office, the State Auditor, and the University of California, Berkeley, detailing the inadequate planning, weak oversight, and lax contract management, the State Legislature put significant strings on the funding given to the High Speed Rail Authority in this year’s budget. Specifically, the Legislature insisted that the Authority address some of the criticisms before receiving the second half of its funding. However, in a surprise move, the Governor cut those strings as he line item vetoed the budget.

In the Legislature’s budget, the Authority had to submit a report by February 1, 2011 which includes:

    * A legal analysis of the revenue guarantee the Authority would like to offer the private firm that eventually operates the project – a guarantee, which if backed by state funding, would seem to violate the law
    * A summary of contract expenditures for community outreach, which would likely show its outreach budget spent more on promoting the project instead of reaching to communities
    * A financial plan with alternative funding scenarios since the likelihood of getting the large sum of federal and private funding the Authority is banking on seems remote
    * A copy of the strategic plan
    * A report on the performance of the Program Management Contractor
    * A report on how the Authority has addressed the other recommendations of the Bureau of State Audits.

With his veto pen, the Governor removed these important reporting criteria, which means the Authority does not have to address any of the shortcomings. Another glaring deficiency of the Authority’s work is its ridership analysis. UC Berkeley looked at its ridership modeling and found it deeply flawed. Ridership – how many passengers they think will ride the train – determines the system’s financial stability and informs where routes should be placed to serve the most people. Ridership is the foundation of the Authority’s analysis and it is a critical component to get right. The Legislature recognized this and insisted that the Authority review its modeling and submit a report detailing how it is addressing Berkeley findings. The Governor deleted this provision too.

The Governor’s actions mean the Authority has a full year of funding with no strings attached. After the abundant criticisms that have come forward over the past 12 months, this is disappointing. It is the role of the Legislature to ensure taxpayers dollars are spent wisely and projects, particularly of this magnitude, are closely watched. The Legislature took this role very seriously in crafting the Authority’s budget. The Governor instead gave them a free pass.


11.  From Brock Dolman:
Very interesting story on another aspect of oceanic nitrogen nutrient cycling... 
Whales vertically bringing it back up from the benthic bottom, feeding the primary productivity... so that processes such as the anadromous nutrient pump via salmon and lamprey can further bio-accumulate and horizontally return the nutrients all the way back up to the head waters of our watersheds! 

From Fin Whales to Fir Trees!  From Benthos to Beavers!! And back again... Long live literal Feed-Back loops! 

Waste = Food! 

To quote the clown Wavy Gravy - “You are what you don’t shit!”

And in Japan and Norway’s whale-murdering face - Once again the fallacy of competition vs. the symbiotic fact that the presence of keystone species beget conditions conducive for more bio-capacity!

Whale poop ups productivity of ocean fisheries

Washington, Oct 13 (ANI): A new study from Harvard University and University of Vermont has revealed that whale faeces is rich in nutrients, and has a huge positive influence on the productivity of ocean fisheries.

Most whales actually deposit waste that floats at the surface of the ocean, "very liquidy, a flocculent plume," said University of Vermont whale biologist, Joe Roman.  Whales, they found, carry nutrients such as nitrogen from the depths where they feed back to the surface via their faeces. This functions as an upward biological pump, reversing the assumption of some scientists that whales accelerate the loss of nutrients to the bottom.

Roman and McCarthy found that phytoplankton in the Gulf of Maine in the western North Atlantic has a brake on its productivity when nitrogen is used up in the otherwise productive summer months.  "We think whales form a really important direct influence on the production of plants at the base of this food web," said McCarthy.

"We found that whales increase primary productivity," Roman said, allowing more phytoplankton to grow, which then "pushes up the secondary productivity," he said, of the critters that rely on the plankton. The result - "bigger fisheries and higher abundances throughout regions where whales occur in high densities," Roman said.

Another implication is that culls and bounty programs would reduce nitrogen and "decrease overall productivity," Roman and McCarthy noted.

Countries like Japan argue that whales compete with their commercial fisheries.  "Not only is that competition small or non-existent, but actually the whales present can increase nutrients and help fisheries and the health of systems wherever they are found. By restoring populations we have a chance to glimpse how amazingly productive these ecosystems were in the past," Roman said.

The study is published in the journal Plos ONE. (ANI)


12.  Feedback

Pamela Michael:
> Hi Jake, I was happy to see young Quinn Whitlow's poem in your latest newsletter. I have one request and one additional piece of information about the poem that might be of interest to your readers. 
> The request--Could you add "River of Words," as in “2009 River of Words Grand Prize Winner,” instead of just “2009 Grand Prize Winner,” when reprinting anything from our nonprofit’s website, so that folks know where the work comes from? Adding our web address—, if people want to see more kids’ art and poetry, would be great, too.
> The additional info about 7-year-old Quinn’s poem--”Unseen Secrets” was one of two River of Words poems chosen for the second year of our “Youth Inspiring Youth” (YIY) partnership with WomenSing, an East Bay treble chorus that’s almost fifty-years-old. YIY commissions two young composers (under 25) to write new choral pieces each year, using poems by our young River of Words poets. The compositions are then premiered by WomenSing in their annual concert season. A couple of the compositions have also included a children’s choir. Quinn’s piece, composed by Joshua Fishbein, age 25, was premiered in 2010, along with “Sisyphean,” composed by 23-year-old Elizabeth Lim, based on a River of Words poem by 15-year-old Skyler Pham.
> This remarkable partnership, which garnered the 2010 national Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker Award for WomenSing, showcases the unique gifts of these young poets and composers. Participants take part in a series of events each year, including public workshops and discussions. Nationally recognized composer and teacher Libby Larsen mentors the young composers as well. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the project, now entering its third year, is the fact that the composer, poet, and WomenSing’s artistic director, Martin Benvenuto, are able to discuss the piece in detail as it is being created and rehearsed. Most composers and performers in this genre are dealing with music whose creators, composer and librettist both, are long in the grave. The email correspondence between Quinn and Joshua while Josh was writing the music for “Unseen Secrets,” is a wonderful documentation of inter-generational collaboration and creativity; the onstage, pre-concert discussion between them at the premiere was a complete delight. 
> You can actually see/hear two Youth Inspiring Youth pieces being performed by going to:
> For more information about the young poets and composers and Youth Inspiring Youth go to:
> Thanks again, Jake, for your wonderful work. We are so honored that you include our kids’ art and poetry in your newsletters.
> Pamela Michael, River of Words Executive Director and Co-founder
Oooooh, Pamela, I shouldn't have needed that reminder--but I did need it, obviously.  I don't mind at all being reminded--in fact, I appreciate it, as it is all part of the message.  I hope I won't need it again, and I don't think I will.

Miao Ling He:
> Hi Jake,
>     Thanks for sharing your insight on the different issues.  Yes, I did read the other newsletters (including your response to other people's comment on the immigration issue), but after I sent you my comment.  Perhaps, I was oversensitive with the immigration issue, but with good reasons - too many times in US history that immigrants were the scapegoat during bad economic time.  As a first generation immigrant myself, I know it way too well how hard it is for immigrants to make a living in this country.  You're right about immigrants who often work for low wages and being taken advantage of.  Many new immigrants (legal) have to take whatever jobs they can find (which often are low paying or underpaid) because of their language barrier.  I'm opposed to illegal immigration and I agree that we shouldn't subsides for more children - to me, this is the family planning issue, just as China has to enforce its cruel, but effective one child policy.
> In terms of the "contribution of immigrants on US agriculture and economy", I was referring to the hard working legal immigrants (including early immigrants, those who bring their knowledge on farming systems and different crops) and their role in agriculture, particularly California agriculture.  
> I am aware of the different critical issues we're facing today, many you mentioned in your response: development pressure on farm lands (I work with farmers and ranchers who are facing those issues), climate change and its impacts to our ecosystems, health, and economy, water shortage which is not a new issue in our home state, pollution... many of these issues are interconnected.  We got a lot of work to do and awareness is definitely the first step, so I really appreciate your effort in educating people about the issues.
Ling:  What a very pleasant surprise to hear the voice of reason on this issue--and particularly from one who has personally suffered injustice because of the stupid way we are handling matters.  

Polarization is becoming the norm, and it is self-defeating by nature.  I am weary of people screaming at each other across the Grand Canyon.  We who were born and raised in this country have made the unconscious assumption that we are top dog and will stay that way.  There is no shortage of signs that our dominance is coming to an end.  (See Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future, below.  That decline needn't have taken place; it is a result of bad management due to short-sightedness, greed, lack of education, and hubris.

I am glad you are looking after farmers.  The govt is doing a poor job of that, but doing an excellent job of encouraging agribusiness, a ruinous choice.

Peter Warner:
> Hi, Jake, thank you so much for your newsletter; in particular, I appreciate the discussion you and Patrick have had regarding Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, and especially the passage I believe you wrote in the Oct. 12 issue, beginning "Can't do without optimism...".  This captures so well some of my musing about my dual persona, how I can be a cranky, if not a downright enraged, curmudgeon occasionally, yet most of the time maintaining an attitude of kindness and generosity and acceptance of people, and truly reveling in happiness during my frequent walks in places that touch my soul, or in company with people who delight me.  I guess this might, in part, explain why I'm still active in CNPS and Cal-IPC, even though I'm critical of conservation organizations playing by status quo rules that are guaranteed to defeat any efforts to alter the destructive course of civilization.  I do think that civilization is, fundamentally, at fault: while I don't agree with Derrick Jensen on all his points, he provides a sound justification (in Endgame) for his basic premise that civilization is unsustainable (not taking issue here with his definition of civilization).
> I've gradually become more tolerant of people who think differently than I, in part because I recognize that most of us have little or no control over the forces that are wreaking havoc on the world, socially, environmentally, economically.  I sometimes think I understand that most people, even many with what I consider to be really poor values, are just struggling to get by with what they know, albeit that is often not much of an excuse to me.  What really pisses me off is that I also know that lots of people make lots of decisions that influence the world far beyond their immediate sphere, yet those decisions are made with only self-promotion or selfish interests in mind and at heart, and those people, to me, are more than worthy of all my wrath.  Applying labels won't alter human nature, but I truly believe that evil exists in many people, and that evil seems to be borne from a place in many people that disconnects their actions from the impacts of their actions -- they just don't/won't/perhaps can't accept responsibility.  The word commonly used for such people is sociopath, and I truly believe that sociopaths run the world, not least the U. S. government, the military, corporations, and banks.  Worse even than the immediate and direct consequences of their actions, they've commandeered and manipulated language and culture in order to sustain their stranglehold on the thoughts and actions of many, many people who believe the lies and distortions.  As a result, most people have no idea just how dire are the impacts that global ecology has sustained, even as they are manifest in everyone's life every day.
> This is just a long-winded way of saying I appreciate that you and others seem to experience similar emotions as I do about the state of the world, and that while I might not agree with kindred souls on all the issues, we at least seem to share some recognition that we (human civilization) have gone far astray in the wrong direction.  Time to go for a walk to listen to birds and crickets sing.


13.  Venus Belt

Very shortly after sunset (and, I suppose, sunrise, if you're up then) you see a pink belt and, below that, a blue belt just above the horizon opposite the Sun.  The combination is called the Venus Belt.  The blue is the Earth's shadow, and the pink is due to backscattering of reddened light from the setting Sun.


From Jo Coffey: Manhattanhenge

14.  From Patrick Schlemmer:
“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”
-Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (mid-1800s)

Corvids make interesting neighbors. We decorate our house every Halloween. One year, I purchased a lifelike toy raven at the Halloween store and attached it to the little balcony on the front of our house. We were awakened at first light by the angry vocalizations of a flock of ravens. The scene resembled an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with a dozen birds perched around our house angrily vocalizing at this strange intruder.

Ravens, crows and other corvids are amongst the most fascinating and enigmatic of our local birds. They exhibit complex social behavior, a broad range of vocalizations, and startling intelligence.


15. From Center for Biological Diversity
Study: Curbing Population Growth Could Cut 1/3 of Emissions

The world's population now stands at 6.9 billion people and could reach 9 billion by mid-century -- a scary thought in terms of the carbon dioxide each of those billions will help emit. But according to a new study, slowing population growth to no more than 7.4 billion by 2050 could be enough to reduce the world's CO2 emissions to levels that could avoid catastrophic, runaway global warming. In fact, the study says, the world's overall population size has the biggest influence on future greenhouse gas emissions, with urbanization and consumption taking second and third place.
"This study helps confirm other research showing that investments in family planning to stabilize population growth are a very effective way to reduce future carbon emissions," said Randy Serraglio, overpopulation campaign coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity. "If we really want to reduce our carbon footprint -- and the number of species that disappear beneath it -- it will be necessary to reduce the number of feet."
Read more in E & E News and check out about the Center's revamped overpopulation webpage.


(Sorry, I lost the contact information for this.  I'm sure you can find it somehow on the internet.  JS)

16.  “Bridging the Gap: Downscaling Climate Models to Inform Management Actions” Workshop
Presented by the CA Dept of Fish & Game Climate Change Work Group, the US Geological Survey, and US Fish and Wildlife Service

9:00-5:15 • November 3, 2010
Sacramento State Campus (Room # TBA)

Goals:  Bring together individuals doing cutting edge research on downscaling in California with key ecologists, land managers and partners
Provide participants with a shared technical understanding of potential downscaling applications to ecological resource management
Provide an opportunity for discussion on data needs and the challenges of dealing with uncertainty, scale and resolution


17.  The Watershed Nursery's
Fall Native Plant Sale
Friday, Saturday & Sunday
October 22nd - 24th, 10 am - 4 pm
All plants discounted 30%


18.  Parasites living off journalism produced by others

Leonard Downie Jr, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, has attacked online news aggregators including the Huffington Post as "parasites living off journalism produced by others".

Delivering the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at London's City University last night, Downie criticised online aggregators for filling their websites "with news, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect – some would say steal – from other national and local news sites".

The Huffington Post was founded in 2005 by socialite and columnist Arianna Huffington and earlier this year overtook the New York Times website in terms of traffic.

But Downie questioned how the blogging and aggregation site got this traffic. "Revealing photos of and stories about entertainment celebrities account for much of the highly touted web traffic to the Huffington Post... Though they purport to be a new form of journalism, these aggregators are primarily parasites living off journalism produced by others," said Downie, who edited the Washington Post for 17 years until 2008 and is now the paper's vice-president at large.

Other leading US web news aggregators include the Drudge Report and NewsNow. Downie criticised them for attracting audiences by appealing to what he claimed are predictable sets of political prejudices on the left or the right, "along with titillating gossip and sex".

Downie also used the lecture, named after the late war correspondent and broadcaster, to criticise a journalistic culture which has led to "tabloid invasions of privacy". And he hit out at broadcasters and publishers which allowed "news [to be] presented as entertainment and entertainment presented as news".

He added: "Credible, verifiable journalism about what is important in life is needed more than ever amidst the babble of the blogosphere and social networks."

He also said the internet had the power to dramatically improve journalism. "The best journalism being produced now – thanks to the same forces of change that have so disrupted the old order – is arguably better than ever."

"Journalists can gather news and information much more widely and deeply on the internet. They can update and supplement their reporting continuously on blogs and social media – and they can have their reporting enriched and fact-checked by their audiences."

But he said news organisations must find new ways of funding their output and be prepared to collaborate with rivals, in print and online, in order to survive.

Downie contrasted news aggregators with other websites founded by former journalists, members of the public or recently established charitable organisations set up to fund "accountability journalism". He praised them for filling a gap left by America's big newspapers, many of which are shrinking in size and facing unprecedented financial challenges.

"American journalism is at a transformational moment," he said, "in which a long era of dominant newspapers and influential network television news programmes is rapidly giving way to a new journalistic era in which both the gathering and distribution of news is more widely dispersed."

He pointed out that despite the systemic and structural changes facing the industry, Americans spend more time consuming news than they did a decade ago.

Describing a "transformational moment" in American journalism, he said: "A long era of dominant newspapers and influential network television news programmes is rapidly giving way to a new journalistic era in which both the gathering and distribution of news is more widely dispersed.

"The challenge I see – in the United States and elsewhere, over time – is to turn this tumultuous moment of transformation into a beneficial reconstruction of journalism, enabling credible, verifiable, independent news reporting to emerge, enlivened and enlarged, from the current decline of long-dominant news media."  James Robinson, Guardian Weekly October 2010

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


19.  Flight of the Squid

New photos offer the best evidence yet of mollusk aeronautics

Marine biologist Silvia Maciá was boating on the north coast of Jamaica...She and her colleagues noted that squid as small as 20 centimeters could launch themselves as high as two meters above the water and propel themselves, actively flapping their fins and spiraling their tentacles, for a distance as great as 10 meters. The paper collected sightings of at least six distinct squid species squirting themselves as high as three meters over the waves using jet propulsion, the process of taking in and forcing out liquid to generate thrust. Sometimes the squid flew solo, sometimes in packs, sometimes with enough force to match the speed of boats.

...Ron O’Dor, a senior scientist at the Census of Marine Life, is analyzing images taken last year off the coast of Brazil that may provide the best-ever photographic documentation of airborne squid. “When you look at some of the pictures, it seems they are more or less using their fins as wings,” says O’Dor, who is hoping to calculate squid velocity, among other details, from the images.

Data points

20 Length, in centimeters, of Macia's squid

10 Distance, in meters, that squid can fly (about 50 times their body length)

3 The height, in meters, at which squid can fly above the water

Scientific American, October 2010

20.  A new view of plants

Plants behave in some oddly intelligent ways: fighting predators, maximizing food opportunities ... But can we think of them as actually having a form of intelligence of their own? Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso presents intriguing evidence.

 Stefano Mancuso is a founder of the study of plant neurobiology, which explores signaling and communication at all levels of biological organization, from genetics to molecules, cells and… Full bio and more links
Peter Vaernet:  I recommend in general

(JS:  Mancuso touches on the subject of our preference for animals over plants, a preference which prejudices our judgment.  This view has the sanction of religion, as clear preferences for "creatures" and "things that move" are stated in Genesis, and we are enjoined to "obtain dominion over the land" and to "subdue the earth".  The prejudice is obvious in popular thinking, which in turn is reflected in law.  The Endangered Species Act has much stronger protections for animals than for plants, which it considers second-class organisms.  This is truly strange, as animals are totally dependent on plants for their existence.  Plants are the primary engines of life, capturing the Sun's energy and converting it to forms that animals and other organisms can use.  Mancuso goes beyond that point, finding sentience and "thinking" in plants.)
21.  Scientific American

NEWS: Does a Weaker Sun Mean a Warmer Earth?
Changes in the sun's output of various wavelengths of light have been warming the planet recently, contradicting scientists' computer models of the solar cycle

OBSERVATIONS: Will birth control solve climate change?
Changing the peak population number alone could save at least 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year by 2050, according to a new analysis

EXTINCTION COUNTDOWN: From chytrid to ranavirus: Another disease is devastating frog populations
The chytrid fungus isn't the only thing killing frogs and amphibians around the world


22.  More purple prose from Lagunitus Brewing Company

Has the brewery hired a microbiologist for copy writer?  Beware of this Little Sumpin' Wild ale--alcoholic content is 8.85%!

"Bring me Sumpin' Wild!"  His voice rang out down the double helical hallway.  He was summoning the object of his desire, that Phenolic Off-Flavor producing POF gene.  He was a handsome, albeit pedestrian, heterozygous diploid strain and he longed for the wild side of things - the lights, the big city, the clove esters, the subtle tropical fruit nuances...but he was an ordinary heterozygous diploid.  "Bring me the POF!" he bellowed again down the helix, holding out his fresh new bud in hopeful expectation of the imminent protoplast fusion that would allow him to decarboxylate ferulate to 4-vinyl guaiacol and qualify him for pitching and subsequent ATP defilement of the luscious Little Sumpin' wort.  Hope springs eternal, but who among us is as lucky as all that...?  Call us sometime!


23.  Global power
On top of the world

Why the West’s present dominance is both recent and temporary

Excerpted from review in The Economist, Oct 7th 2010

Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future. By Ian Morris

IAN MORRIS, a polymathic Stanford University professor of classics and history, has written a remarkable book that may come to be as widely read as Paul Kennedy’s 1987 work, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”. Like Mr Kennedy’s epic, Mr Morris’s “Why the West Rules—For Now” uses history and an overarching theory to address the anxieties of the present. Mr Kennedy warned American policymakers of the consequences of “imperial overstretch”, although it was the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union that proved the most spectacular vindication of his thesis.

For his part, Mr Morris sets out to show two things that are just as important; first that civilisations throughout history have waxed and waned, usually for reasons their rulers were powerless to influence, and second, that the West’s dominance of the past 200 years was neither inevitable nor “locked in” for the future.

Mr Morris’s refrain is “maps, not chaps”—the belief that human destiny is mostly shaped by geography and the efforts of ordinary people to cope with whatever is thrown at them in the form of climate change, famine, migration, disease and state failure (what the author describes as the “five horsemen of the apocalypse”). He argues that “history teaches us that when the pressure is on, change takes off.” According to what he calls, somewhat annoyingly, the Morris Theorem, “Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways of doing things. And they rarely know what they are doing.”

Among the many things the author sets out to explain is why, throughout human history, social development has gone in fits and starts, sometimes retreating in one place for a millennium or two before suddenly spurting forward again elsewhere. As a way of dramatising this, Mr Morris presents these ebbs and flows in the form of a contest between East and West. Why, he asks, did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842 rather than Chinese ones up the Thames, and why do many more people from the East speak English than Europeans speak Mandarin?

At first glance the answer is obvious. The industrial revolution began in the West in the late 18th century thanks primarily to the efforts of British engineers and entrepreneurs who sought to exploit the energy from the country’s abundant coal stocks and use it to harness the power of steam to drive ships, trains and machines in factories. The rapid march of technology gave Britain a temporary edge over every other country and allowed it to project both economic and maritime military power on a global scale that remained virtually unchallenged for most of the next 100 years, and to establish the ascendancy of the West that continues today. But why did China, with its sophisticated textile industry, advanced metallurgy, massive supplies of coal and lots of clever, inventive people not get there first? After all, a couple of centuries earlier it had been higher up the social-development scale than Britain, or indeed anywhere else in the West.

And why, come to that, was Britain, rather than China, the foremost naval power of the age? More than 80 years before Christopher Columbus set sail for America with 90 seamen in three small ships, the Chinese admiral, Zheng He, was exploring the coasts of Africa and India with a total of nearly 300 much bigger vessels and 27,000 men.

.....Towards the end of his book, Mr Morris attempts to answer the question posed in the title. The West may still rule, but for how much longer? His conclusion is that although power, influence and commercial dynamism are shifting eastward at a relentless pace, the question itself may be wrong. If Eastern and Western social development scores continue rising at their current rates, Western “rule” will end early in the next century. But the rise in the index over the next 100 years, propelled by quantum leaps in computing power and bioscience, is so exponential that humankind itself will be profoundly changed, making distinctions between East and West seem weirdly anachronistic.

There is, on the other hand, a real possibility that we fail to negotiate even the next 50 years without triggering environmental catastrophe, global pandemics or nuclear war. In which case, both West and East will simultaneously crash into the hard ceiling of our own era. Mr Morris ends on an optimistic note. If we can put off “Nightfall” long enough, he says, the difference between the trials we face today and those that eventually did in the Song dynasty in China when it pressed against the hard ceiling 1,000 years ago, or the Roman empire 1,000 years before that, is that we are so much more able to understand and counter the forces that threaten us—if we have the wit and purpose to do so.

(JS:  That's ending on an optimistic note?  That "wit and purpose" phrase is not comforting.  I fear a simile to rats crammed in a cage, which is how I view the coming world, and one of the many reasons I am concerned with population growth.  The chance of finding wit and purpose in that situation is slim to non-existent; at those moments, brute instinct for survival dominates all.)


“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”  George Orwell
24.  Kinky Friedman redux

Sometime back I posted a squib about the bizarre campaign by maverick candidate for governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman.  Even if you don't agree with him, his honesty is refreshing in politically correct times, especially since I live in a suffocatingly-PC city.  Friedman's latest, in regard to Houston's problems ensuing from accommodating refugees from Hurricane Katrina:  "The musicians mostly have moved back to New Orleans now.  The crackheads and the thugs have decided to say here."  (Under fire later, he explained that he doesn't pander to ethnic groups:  "I don't eat tamales in the barrio, I don't eat fried chicken in the ghetto, I don't eat bagels with the Jews for breakfast.  That to me is true racism.")  Quoted in The Economist

Beth, one of my regular Wednesday weed-pullers, met Kinky Friedman at the recent Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and he posed with her for this photo.
Beth:  Can you tell me why, with that stogie and the bottle of Jose Cuervo, he didn't win the governor's race?  He had all the qualifications.  Jack Daniels would be needed in most states, but Jose Cuervo might work in Texas.  Jake

> he calls his Jose Cuervo "Mexican Mouthwash" :)  He also said (and I paraphrase) I believe in term limits. All politicians should serve one term in office and the second term in jail.
For updates and info, contact scott at planttrees dot org.