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


1.   ee cummings greets the spring
2.   Beach Chalet Athletic Fields EIR meeting Feb 23
3.   Saving sharks from the soup/Leland Yee--Draw you whoreson cullionly barber monger!
4.   Feedback:  In praise of cities?/herbicides/eating animal proteins unhealthy/
5.   Growing food in the city
6.   The Hidden Forest:  Biography of an ecosystem
7.   Understanding less, loving more
8.   San Francisco Utility Box update
9.   Spring 2011 Light Out For Birds - pay attention in spring/fall migration seasons/our globe at night
10. What about insects and night lighting?
11. Spring wildflower walk Sunday 27
12. The Spider, by Loren Eiseley
13. LTEs: A jab at Bush/a jab at jabberers--NGO jargon.  (It will sound familiar)
14. LTEs: Myths about population/The US and its universities
15. Article on Free University Project
16. Don't know much about history - the dismal state of a vital subject
17. Demographics of the Arab world - no, really--it's interesting
18. Ireland is a series of stories it tells about itself.  None of them are true
19. LTEs: California Dreamin' - Delta water issues/World According to Disney - deliberate deception on population issues
20. Bill Moyers and plutocracy
21. Reincarnation: I want to come back as the bond market/cartoon: gorilla in the room
22. Ducking and diving--Everyone's favorite Secy of Defense: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld
23. Notes & Queries:  Do butterflies have fun?/Scientific evidence the human race is devolving?

wholly to be a fool 
while Spring is in the world my blood approves
and kisses are a better fate 
than wisdom
ee cummings


2.  Beach Chalet Athletic Fields EIR meeting and other announcements

1.    EIR – Official hearing – Wednesday, February 23, 2011 – come and speak!
2.    Flyers to distribute before the February 23, 2011 hearing.
3.    Volunteers needed.


What:   EIR Scoping Meeting
When:  Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Golden Gate Park Senior Center, Fulton and 37th Avenue

v  Come and register your concerns about the future of Golden Gate Park. 
v  Ask questions about the impacts of this project that should be included in the EIR.
v  Your comments can influence the content of the EIR.


v  One flyer is one full sheet, one-sided, for posting; the other will make two flyers per sheet; two-sided.


v  Give out new volunteer flyers at the February 23, 2011 meeting before the meeting – you will still be able to sit in on the full meeting and to speak.  Come to the Senior Center around 6:00 on Wednesday.
v  Ask people to register on our sign-up sheet during the meeting.
v  Videotape the Scoping Session.
v  Are your kids cute, talented, and full of star-potential?  We are making a short video and need a few kids to hold puppets and say one line each.  The video will be done by Lorraine, the Ranger Rapper, and NASDAQ, the rapping raven.   The Video will be loaded onto Youtube. 
v  Come to our Volunteer meeting to talk about Next Steps. Sunday, March 13, 2011,  5:00 p.m.

For more information,  go to   or write to:

From my archives
Gray Brechin:  
I'm behind in reading your nature news, but I was fairly gobsmacked in the Feb 10 issue to read an LTE to the NYT by Katherine Howard opposing a new soccer complex at the west end of Golden Gate Park. While I would, too, I found it odd that Howard  used the term "natural beauty" twice and once the term "natural landscape" to describe a park that is anything but natural.

When asked by banker William Ralston to lay out something like NY'C's Central Park (but larger) in the drifting sand dunes out by the beach, Olmsted advised against it. He recommended using drought-tolerant plants and natives appropriate to California, and doing so closer to downtown. That spoiled the fun of speculators who wanted something attractive and familiar to draw sucker home buyers out to the peninsula's fog zone, so William Hammond Hall was called in to create exactly what Olmsted said not to. Olmsted later wrote to Hall "I do not believe it practicable to meet the natural but senseless demand of unreflecting people bred in the Atlantic states and North of Europe for what is technically termed a park under the climatic conditions of California."

Olmsted was, as usual, right: Golden Gate Park consumed water so voraciously that it necessitated the aqueduct that snaked out of San Francisco to steal the creeks in San Mateo County, and then Alameda and Santa Clara Counties as well, eliminating them as salmon runs. But Hall (and later McLaren) so brilliantly succeeded in creating the appearance of Sussex in the Sahara that he has succeeded in tricking people for years into thinking they are looking at a natural landscaping. Overlooking the Park from UCSF, I once overheard a young man telling his girl friend that those trees were all that was left of the forest that once covered San Francisco, not realizing that they are every bit as artificial as the Sunset and Richmond Districts that bound the Park.

Thanks; the feedback is always appreciated, Gray.  In this case I doubly appreciate it because I've posted several rants about GGP and other parks and I like it to come from someone else to reinforce.
I don't remember whether I commented on it at the time, but I think I told Katherine Howard that there was nothing natural about GGP.  The problem is less knowing the history that you cite as much as not having an understanding of what 'natural' is.  We run into this problem all the time, and it is a wearying battle.  My generic response:  "We live in a biologically illiterate society."

That's not just your generic response, Jake; Olmsted wrote of Californians during the Civil War when he was here that "The sojourning habit of the people is shown in their want of interest in the fixed qualities of the place." No one knew what the plants or the animals were, nor did they care. He called the westward movement "one grand game of assassination." We never stopped playing that game and must now live (and die) with the terrible consequences of our would-be conquest.

Edward Abbey said that “the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” A bay without oysters or oystercatchers is no longer wild. A coast without prairie is no longer wild. Land smothered by Brazilian peppertree is no longer wild. Wilderness does need defenders, even when the defense offends those who should be our friends. 


There is no requirement that a public official have an environmental bone in his or her body. One can be a talk show host or holy roller and spout hocus-pocus with no threat of retribution or refutation. No matter how ludicrous the claim, all you need are viewers, votes, or donors to get a pass.  Anonymous

Eric Mills, Action for Animals:

MAKE SOME COMMENTS, PEOPLE!  And the sooner you do, the more people who will see them.

I just submitted a long one, relating the shark fin issue to the live animal food markets.  Where's the public outrage on THAT?

Note, too, that Senator Leland Yee had a letter in the CHRONICLE today trying to justify his position, along with an apology.  Too little, too late, in my book.

Please spread this one around.  And thank Jon Carroll for taking on the shark fin issue.  Urge him to do a follow-up on the markets.
The original article can be found on here:

(JS:  I arbitrarily selected these paragraphs out of the article, but you should read the whole thing.)

Supporters said that the large California market encourages the use of the cruel practice of shark finning (which is exactly what it sounds like). The sharks are then put  back in the water to die. Some scientists say that the collapse of the international shark population is due to the skyrocketing demand for shark fins all over the world.   Paul Fong, a Democrat from Cupertino, said: "I grew up on shark fin soup, but when I found out the effect it was having on the shark population two years ago, I stopped eating it." Fong is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

State Sen. Leland Yee, who perhaps not by coincidence is running for mayor of San Francisco, decided to ignore and distort the issue. He called the bill "an attack on Asian culture"  "Right now, Costco sells shark steak. What are you going to do with the fin from that shark? This is another example in a long line of examples of insensitivity to the culture and traditions of the Asian American community." Oh, please.

...Is it two days since I tript up thy heels, and beat thee, before the king?
Draw, you rogue! for, though it be night, yet the moon shines; I'll make a
sop o' the moonshine of you: draw, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger,

(JS:  Why can't we cuss like that anymore?  "Draw, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger"--boy! I could have used that on Leland Yee when he cynically played the race card in a Board of Supervisors' hearing in 2003 when, at the behest of the off-leash dog advocates, whose PAC made generous contributions to his campaign and walked precincts for him, he rewarded them handsomely by taking a citizens advisory committee away from the Recreation-Park Dept, changed its makeup, and made it report to the Board of Supervisors (!!!!) on an intra-department issue, thus unnecessarily politicizing an issue and gumming up the works.  I believe that was the first and only time in San Francisco history that such a body was taken from a dept and made accountable to the Board.  Draw you whoreson cullionly barber-monger!!)

Eric:    There has been a huge growth of opposition to shark finning in China for some time now.   Yao Ming (NBA) has done a Wild Aid recording opposing shark finning.  So have Li Ning who lit the Olympic torch and Liu Huan who sang at the opening of the Beijing Olympics.   20 gold medalists have voiced their opinion against the practice and Chinas CCTV network is openly against the practice.  Even Alibaba (Chinas E-Bay) prohibits the sale of shark fin on its site. 
    Leland may have done us a great favor by calling this a racist issue and it will be interesting to see how old world Chinatown feels about him now.  He's looking for the vote but he may have cut his throat on this one.   His only hope for support may come from scaring Chinatown by throwing the old domino theory at them; if they prohibit shark fins what next will they take away from us poor Asians.   The LAM issue could go both ways now depending on how the cards are played.  By the way where was DFG on this issue?  This falls under their regulatory powers, why have they just been sitting by all these years ignoring the issue.   Oh thats right, they have been working hard to keep the Coqui frog out of the State, it does make too much noise you know.    Miles Young


Saving sharks from the soup 
California should impose a ban on the sale or possession of shark fins.
February 19 2011

Sharks star in more than scary movies. Their predatory existence is vital to keeping the oceans' ecosystem and fisheries in balance; their plummeting numbers are cause for deep concern. There have been collapses of some species, such as the great hammerhead in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, whose numbers are down by 89%. Overall, close to a third of shark species are considered to be in danger of extinction. 

The complete article can be viewed at:,0,5284392.story 

Visit at

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.  Aldo Leopold

And another from SF Examiner:
Shark fins stirring up state debate | Katie Worth San Francisco Examiner

(It helps if you write to the Ex.  It is hideously cruel and it imperils a natural resource that belongs to the world.  This does nothing to improve the image of its proponents.  WRITE.  JS)


4.  Feedback

On Feb 18, 2011, at 1:12 PM, Louis Nuyens wrote:
> Before we are too quick to praise cities, we should remember that today's cities rely unsustainably on fossil fuels, even if we believe the concocted attributions contained in Glaeser's fantasy-based analysis.
> Urbanism is not the answer to the post fossil fuels world -- urbanism requires an energy intensity and portability that cannot be sustained in a post peak-oil world. Nor is the answer for civilizations that really need to get back in touch with nature.
> The sad truth is that the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth might be a lot closer to one billion than to seven billion or more, and sustainable land-use -- which might require that food, water, construction materials, and energy supply come from locations near to the people who use them -- might look a lot more like semi-rural small towns than like medium-to-large cities in which nature is paved out of existence and all essential food, water, energy, and materials must be delivered from remote locations.
I'm pretty much with you, Louis, and the fact that I post items doesn't necessarily mean that I endorse or agree with the views presented--merely that it is a POV that should be considered.  I like to challenge my own thinking, as it is easy to get stuck in one's own rut.

John Rusk:
>> I loved your rant about the pseudo-science (quackery) behind many of the false claims about herbicides.  Sorry to say that you have little chance convincing such people of the validity of the scientific method—they have a point to prove and, by god, they’re going to prove it.  Do you notice that the more access there is to accurate information the dumber many of our compatriots seem to become?  It’s more fun, after all, to curse the darkness than to light a candle.

On Feb 21, 2011, at 3:20 PM, wrote:
> I just finished your very well-thought-out response to Mary McAllister. One thing you didn't mention is that, while the active ingredient in herbicides gets all the negative attention, it is the surfactant that causes problems to aquatic wildlife. That's why Aqua Master is used in riparian habitats instead of Roundup. They share the same glyphosate compound, but Aqua Master uses a different surfactant which is harmless to aquatic creatures. The surfactant is the ingredient that aids in the herbicide's ability to stick to the targeted plant's leaf surface for maximum translocation to the plant's roots. Not all surfactants are harmful. You and I both know a highly qualified licensed applicator who routinely mixes triclopyr with food-grade canola oil that he purchases at Costco or Smart & Final.
Doug:  Yes, I was well aware of this omission, but I was afraid of the length of my essay and concerned about keeping a complicated message as simple as possible while getting the point across.

Hans U Weber:
> Jake:  You may appreciate the item below (or an excerpt). My temptation to become vegetarian or even vegan is growing, for environmental as well as health reasons. The China Study by Campbell and Campbell makes a strong case that eating animal proteins is unhealthy. Of course, I'm wary of putting too much confidence on the results of epidemiological studies and their statistical interpretations.  However, for ethical reasons, it also makes a lot of sense not to eat animals that have been raised under the most inhumane conditions (hypocrites that we all are, we don't want to think about that).
> BTW, I appreciate your thoughtful response to a reader's exaggerated concern about Garlon. Unfortunately, our media tend to exaggerate and mislead the public about many issues, particularly topics in science. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins quotes Peter Medawar as follows: "The spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought." Dawkins tries to educate folks who still believe that Adam and Eve and all animals were created in one week about 10,000 years ago. A Gallup poll has shown that 44% of Americans believe that to be true. How can a democracy succeed when half the voters not only are abysmally ignorant of science but can't use their brains to tell fact from myth? 
> Please keep up your good work--but read a good book every once in a while. You don't have to buy it, just borrow it from the Public Library.
And where can I buy or borrow the time it would take to read it?

Meat: the enemy -- a leading biochemist turns eco-warrior

from Stanford Medicine, Summer 2010, by Krista Conger

Pat Brown hates animals. On your plate, that is. And he’s going to do something about it.

The biochemist at Stanford’s School of Medicine is taking a yearlong sabbatical — starting now — to figure out how to get you, me and, yes, even the rest of the world to stop bolting down hamburgers, chicken and ribs, and turn instead to beans, carrots and avocados. Why? The environmental cost of meat is just too high.

“People are sort of in denial about whether this is even an issue,” says Brown, MD, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “But eating one 4-ounce hamburger is equivalent to leaving your bathroom faucet running 24 hours a day for a week. We can’t go on like this.” (See a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for this and other shocking statistics.)

Brown, who is also a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, has been a vegetarian for decades and a vegan for five years. He doesn’t want to outlaw eating animal products, but he does want us to begin paying for their true cost. Cows, for example, excrete methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to global warming, and gobble down tons of water-sucking grains and plants, exacerbating water shortages facing millions around the world.

“Thirty percent of the world’s land is devoted to animal farming,” says Brown. “People need to begin taking responsibility for their food choices. If they can’t do it voluntarily, then we can use economic incentives.” Incentives that include increasing the price of meat at the supermarket counter so it costs two to three times what you’re paying now.

The attempt to change the world’s eating habits seems quixotic, until you consider Brown’s track record. In the early ’90s, he invented the DNA microarray — a method of scanning the activity levels of tens of thousands of genes simultaneously — that’s since become a workhorse in laboratories around the world. And three years ago he conceived of and launched an entirely new type of scientific journal: one in which every article is publicly available, immediately. The publishing industry scoffed but now the Public Library of Science series of journals is one of the most highly respected in the world.

“Scientists are more inclined to do this sort of thing than most people, because we tend to be almost absurdly optimistic,” says Brown. “We believe that things kind of outside the box may still work.”

As for facing the wrath of the meat lovers? Brown’s not fazed.
“I like angry people. If people aren’t angry, I’m not doing my job.”


5.  Growing food in the city

The San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA) seeks to increase the amount of food grown within San Francisco and promote greater access to and consumption of that food through advocacy, education, and grassroots action. We pursue our mission by leveraging the strengths of our members, building bonds with other organizations and government agencies, and promoting healthy food cultures.
More information on the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance can be found at:

Check out the SFUAA’s website info page:


6.  From The Hidden Forest: the biography of an ecosystem by Jon. R. Luoma, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2000:

Definition of ecology:  "It is the science of who eats whom, and who lives where, of how energy and nutrients course through the tissue of the living world, the science of the study of the production of living tissue and its consumption and decay.  It is the great integrative biological science of not just molecules, not just cells, not just whole organisms, but of the complex dance of nature across space and time."


7.  "As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to love it more and more."              Jules Renard

8.  From San Francisco Beautiful

Utility Boxes Update
Utility Box with Grafitti
San Francisco Beautiful is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the public realm as a beautiful, welcoming resource for all citizens. Streets and sidewalks constitute the greatest area of this public realm. As such, SFB has stood alongside individuals and neighborhood groups for decades to resist the encroachment billboards, private signage, and such thigns as utility boxes or other surface-mounted facilities (SMF's) in the public right-of-way. Supportive of community efforts to underground unsightly overhead wires, cables and utility poles, SF Beautiful has stood firm to protect our city's intrinsic character and pedestrian- and community-oriented streets.

The SF Beautiful Public Affairs Committee with Walk San Francisco met with representatives from AT&T in January to discuss the construction of more than 700 additional SMF's throughout the city, which AT&T would prefer to construct on public land. To be in complete compliance with a Department of Public Works order (No. 175,566) signed in 2005 by now-mayor Ed Lee, utilities are required to place SMF's underground or on private property whenever technologically and economically feasible. AT&T, a for-profit company, does not want to reduce income for investors and has every reason to argue for the placement of SMF's on publicly owned land.

SF Beautiful is concerned about this proposed encroachment and privatization of the public sphere, and that additional utility boxes will impede pedestrian travel on public streets, inconvenience property owners, be magnets for grafitti, and create visual blight. SF Beautiful firmly believes that the Department of Public Works should reaffirm this position enacted by Ed Lee in 2005 and work with AT&T to find sites other than our public sidewalks.

SFB is waiting for responses from AT&T on alternatives to this use of the public realm. We are also anxious to see the proposed locations for the proposed SMF's throughout the city, so that individuals and neighborhood groups can address the issue during the entitlement process.  


Bay Area Residents and Companies Turn Off Lights to Save Birds and Money

Berkeley, CA. – From dusk and until dawn, for the duration of the spring bird migration, building owners, managers and tenants in San Francisco are being asked to turn off unnecessary lights or close drapes, draw blinds or pull shades to help reduce the incidences of collisions that kill approximately 1 billion birds in North America each year. 

In 2008, San Francisco partnered with Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Golden Gate Audubon Society to become one of the first cities to implement a Lights Out program.  The program, which kicks off this week, focuses on voluntary guidelines and recommendations for building owners and operators to turn off lights or draw window coverings during the migration period from February 15 – April 30 of each year and again from August 15 through October 31 for the fall migration. Participants conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions, and save birds.

 “Lights Out for Birds” is a simple, sensible way for people to help birds just by turning off lights or drawing shades,” said Michael Lynes, Conservation Director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “Collisions with windows, lit buildings and towers, and other manmade structures kill nearly 1 billion birds each year, including many migratory birds whose populations are already suffering significant declines. The program is a way for people living and working in San Francisco to make a positive contribution to bird conservation while saving energy and money.”

This spring over 250 species of birds will migrate through the Bay Area, some of which fly from South and Central America all the way to the Arctic tundra. Most migrate at night and use the stars and moon to navigate, which leaves them prone to being attracted by bright lights on tall buildings and communication towers. Some birds are compelled to fly toward the lights, resulting in confusion, exhaustion, injury and sometimes death.  

Anyone can participate merely be turning off unnecessary lights and drawing shades for lit rooms. Buildings owners and operators are encouraged to contact the San Francisco Department of the Environment for Energy Watch incentives and retrofits and their PG&E representatives for more information.

Our globe at night
Forwarded by Alice Polesky
...taken by astronauts, courtesy of Nick. Pretty amazing. What I found especially fascinating was the M-25, the London Orbital or "Ring Road," which surrounds London, and a road I've traveled countless times. It really IS a ring road, and what Nick calls "the spokes" of the wheel, the smaller "A" roads, are also clearly shown here, radiating out of the luminescent heart of London, into the smaller globs of light at the end of the each spoke..


10.  Photo:  Insects at lights


(Have there been studies on this phenomenon?  When you think of the bazillions of insects frittering their energy on just flying around lights, it must be taking a toll.  Is this toll good or bad, or some of each?  JS)

Early Spring Wildflower Hike
Sunday, February 27, 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Pearson-Arastradero Preserve [Map]
Cost: $35

Join botanist Paul Heiple as we hike through the Arastradero Preserve to find the wildflowers that start blooming this month.

For more information and to register, please visit the Acterra Stewardship Program Events webpage.



The Spider

His science has progressed past stone, 
His strange and dark geometries,
Impossible to flesh and bone,
Revive upon the passing breeze
The house the blundering foot destroys.
Indifferent to what is lost
He trusts the wind and yet employs
The jeweled stability of frost.
Foundations buried underfoot
Are forfeit to the mole and worm
But spiders know it and will put
Their trust in airy dreams more firm
Than  any rock and raise from dew
Frail stairs the careless wind blows through.

Loren Eiseley

13.  LTEs, The Economist

Getting it right in Egypt

SIR – Revisionist thinking that credits George Bush with any legitimate insight into Iraq and the wider subject of democracy in the Middle East is wide of the mark. To adduce the erroneous neoconservative theory that “the root cause of terrorism was the absence of Arab democracy” only serves to prove that Mr Bush was as clueless as he was ineffective in dealing with issues in the Arab world.

Terrorism has long thrived in free countries. The Baader-Meinhof gang, the Irish Republican Army, the Red Brigades; these organisations and others all originated in democracies. Mr Bush simply retrofit his policies to appease his own misguided perceptions.  His judgment turned out to be fatally flawed.

Dennis Appleton
Madison, Wisconsin 

A jab at the jabberers

SIR – Your article on the spread of NGO jargon in South Sudan resonated with my experience as a new faculty member at a small college. Here, the buzz words are “student engagement”, “academic assessment”, “goals-oriented exercises” and “learning outcomes”, especially as they pertain to the “core mission” of the institution. We hold meetings on “skills development”, instead of just learning, and write reports on how to foster “critical thinking”, instead of just thinking well.

Meanwhile, the high-minded discourse and furrowed brows allow us to put off the more contentious and difficult questions of how these things should actually be done. That the language of Pedagogueish looks good in grant applications and tenure files is beyond doubt. Whether it leads to better teaching or more knowledgeable students is another matter entirely.

Ethan Hollander
Crawfordsville, Indiana

SIR – How distressing to learn that Africa’s newest country “already knows the gobbledygook of aid”. Can we in the West not swiftly deploy private-sector consultants to help South Sudan achieve jargon parity? This would allow its citizens to identify their core competencies and, through continuous improvement, align them with key success factors to achieve synergy.

Peter Alexander

SIR – You do not need to go to Juba to encounter NGOish. Our local council’s strategic plan is so full of it that it seems they have forgotten to include any actual ideas.

David Scott
Loughborough, Leicestershire 


14.  Guardian Weekly Letters, 11 February 2011

Myths about population

Leo Hickman is correct in concluding that "the challenge for the 21st century is … all about managing birthrates", but his article perpetuates some old myths.

He says "no one likes to talk about it [population]", but there has been vigorous public debate in Australia, particularly in 2010, about exactly these issues. He refers to immigration as one of the answers to China and Japan's "serious problem with ageing", when the immigration solution is no more than a Ponzi scheme: immigrants grow old to increase the number of aged people in the community, leading to increased demand for immigration. Japan, with its ageing population, is actually modelling what the shift to a more sustainable society might look like, and their world has not ended.

Hickman refers to "the natural replenishment rate of just above two children per woman", when in fact, given that parents do not die as soon as they reproduce, this rate is more like one child per woman. He quotes Haub as saying that Germany's birth rate of 1.4 children per woman is "close to demographic suicide", but this completely ignores the mathematics of very large numbers involved and the enormous length of time it would take a population to "disappear".

A decision by parents in the developed world to have one child and not three (a 66% reduction in impact) has more environmental effect than the most rigorous greening of individual consumption patterns (where achieving more than a 33% reduction is very difficult). 

In the current century of planetary overload, it would certainly help if the one-child family became the socially accepted norm all over the world.

Richard Cassels, Brisbane, Australia

The US and its universities

The reference by Simon Jenkins to a university-educated US citizen whose knowledge - if that is the appropriate term - of life in Europe derives from Fox News raises as many questions about the political culture of the US as it does about its universities.

...Are respect for doubt and critical thought not the foundation of a university education across the spectrum, from microbiology to the humanities?  If Fox News can convince a person educated in a US university that publicly funded healthcare programmes in Europe are run by baby-killers, what else can Fox News teach people who get their education at US universities?

Andre Carrel, Terrace, BC, Canada

15.  Article by on the Free University project in Feb 19 New York Times:


16.  Don't know much about history
The dismal state of a vital subject
Teaching standards
Feb 17th 2011 The Economist
AMERICAN history is in vogue, if not well understood. American revolutionaries are reincarnated as tea-partiers. Pocket editions of the constitution are a must-have accessory for politicians. Last month Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman and tea-party favourite, told Iowans that America’s Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more”. Never mind that this was untrue. It sounded nice.

History teaching is far from the biggest crisis in American education. But it is a problem nevertheless, and a neglected one. A broad effort to create voluntary national standards does not include history. No Child Left Behind, George Bush’s education law, tests pupils on maths, reading and science. On February 14th Barack Obama stressed the importance of teaching science, technology and 21st-century skills. Meanwhile America’s schoolchildren score even more poorly in history than in maths: 64% of high-school seniors scored “basic” on a national maths test in 2009, but only 47% reached that level on the most recent national history test.

One problem, a new report argues, is that states have pathetic standards for what history should be taught. Good standards do not ensure that students will learn history. But they are a crucial guide, according to Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank. A study from Fordham, published on February 16th, grades each state for the quality of its history standards. Twenty-eight states received a “D” or an “F”.

Many states emphasise abstract concepts rather than history itself. In Delaware, for example, pupils “will not be expected to recall any specific event or person in history”. Other states teach children about early American history only once, when they are 11. Yet other states show scars from the culture wars. A steady, leftward lean has been followed by a violent lurch to the right. Standards for Texas, passed last year, urge pupils to question the separation of church and state and “evaluate efforts by global organisations to undermine US sovereignty through the use of treaties”.

Some states fare better. South Carolina has set impressive standards—for example, urging teachers to explain that colonists did not protest against taxation simply because taxes were too high. Other states, Mr Finn argues, would do well to follow South Carolina’s example. “Twenty-first century skills” may help pupils become better workers; learning history makes them better citizens. 
There is nothing new
in the world except the
history you do not know.
…Harry Truman

17.  From The Economist.  
(JS:  Note the white box above the blue--it represents the percentage of population under the age of 25.  Yemen >65%!!  Now, is the picture getting any clearer?)

On the lighter side - New Yorker cartoon of the 1950s:  

An Egyptian slave hauling rocks for the Pyramids claimed, “It’s an honor to be associated with an enterprise of this magnitude.”

18.  Ireland in crisis

"Ireland is a series of stories it tells about itself.  None of them are true" Anne Enright, novelist

As Ireland grew rich, one form of exceptionalism--the fatalistic belief that Ireland was destined always to be western Europe's poor outpost--gave way to another:  the myth of the Celtic Tiger.  "We're very narcissistic, says Ms Enright.  "We believed our boom was better than anyone else's."  The Economist

“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”    Sigmund Freud (about the Irish)


19.  LTEs, High Country News
Arrogant irrigators

“California Dreamin’ ” provided a good overview of the water issues in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region of California. However, additional information on the Westlands Water District would have made the article even better. Westlands is comprised mostly of large family or corporate-owned farms.  They are one of the primary beneficiaries of the federally funded Central Valley Project, built by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation using public taxes. Westlands owes over $500 million on the Central Valley Project and has paid no interest on this debt. The district has not paid for the toxicity to fish and wildlife from selenium and other contaminants drained into canals, sloughs and the San Joaquin River. Farmers continue to receive heavily subsidized water — now about $50 per acre-foot — when market prices are approaching $650 per acre-foot. This is government welfare for rich and powerful farmers. Moreover, Westlands has only junior water rights. The district’s insistence on water deliveries at 2005 levels is arrogant and unsupportable.  Farming in the area would not be profitable without heavily subsidized imported water, crop price supports and drainage. This area is in a desert climate with poorly drained, increasingly salinized soils. If people knew what they provide to these wealthy farms, I doubt they would approve. The ecological integrity of the Delta should not be sacrificed for unsupportable water demands.
Marc A. Sylvester
Sonoma, California

The World According to Disney
In recent reporting about the 2010 census, the government and media deliberately deceived the public about the U.S. population explosion. Sadly, “California Dreamin’ ” studiously ignored the same population elephant in the room.

Growth in the U.S. is at its slowest in decades, the government asserted with a straight face. While the nation’s growth has slowed slightly, we’re still the third most populated nation, behind only China and India. We’re the fourth fastest growing, with immigration at five times historical norms and a birth rate that in 2007 exceeded the peak of the baby boom.  Reporting on the California water crisis, HCN ignored that the state — with a growth rate hovering at 4 to 5 percent a year — has been the fastest-growing “nation” in the world in recent years. To assert that any long-term solution to the water crisis can be crafted without slowing growth is outrageous.
Your ongoing dodging of population’s part in environmental problems compromises your credibility, misleads readers, and is an example of “Disney’s First Law”: Wishing will make it so.
Kathleene Parker
Rio Rancho, New Mexico


20.  Gray Brechin:

> Jake,  A friend sends me the following excerpt of an article by Bill Moyers from The Progressive. Moyers states what should be obvious to any observer: the U.S. can no longer seriously claim to be a democracy when, every day, one watches or hears its Democrat [sic] president groveling before and paying obeisance to those of monster wealth he needs for reelection even as he employs the language of the marketplace rather than that of responsible citizenship. I'm astonished that Moyers lasted as long as he did on PBS: I greatly miss his respect for his viewers' intelligence and efforts to raise it further rather than crash it as has the rest of the media commentariat. 

Bill Moyers: Plutocracy is not an American word but it's become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side. By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly "bang the drum on plutonomy." 

And bang they did, with an "equity strategy" for their investors, entitled, "Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer." Here are some excerpts: 

"Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper... take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years..." 

"...the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the US-- the plutonomists in our parlance-- have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US... from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor." 

"... are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact."

And so they were, before the great collapse of 2008. And so they are, today, after the fall. While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street. 

Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding. Remember that Citigroup reference to "market-friendly governments" on their side? It hasn't mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street's bidding. 


21.  KAL's cartoon 

Feb 17th 2011 | from The Economist 

(JS:  In spite of understanding politicians' deadly fear about touching the third rail--entitlements (SS, Medicare, Medicaid)--still, I thought with the debt horrors staring them in the face that they would do something while they still have a little wiggle room.  Not so.  The president skipped it in his State of the Union, and Congress is pretending it can find the monster sums in discretionary spending--all the while knowing it isn't there.  So the charade continues, and we await the catastrophe.  Perhaps the catastrophe will take the shape of the bond market dictating what we will do--see the letter following this (written in 2000), and the words of James Carville.  When (not if) that happens it will force up interest rates so high as to slow down, if not choke, economic activity.  Recession, anyone?  What about the D word?

While seemingly having fun at politicians' expense, I really do understand their predicament.  The fact is, in spite of the obviousness of the stark, unyielding numbers staring at us, the great bulk of voters do not understand the situation, and they will punish anyone who touches their entitlements.  It isn't so much denial as it is immaturity.)

How times have changed

SIR – Rummaging through old copies of The Economist I thought the opening paragraph from an article titled “Coping with surpluses” (May 20th 2000) made amusing reading given the current state of the world:

“I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope. But now I want to come back as the bond market: you can intimidate everybody.” These famous words of James Carville, one of Bill Clinton’s election advisers in 1992, summed up many people’s view of the power of the Treasury bond market. Yet if the American government’s forecasts of endless budget surpluses are correct, that mighty market could disappear. On present trends many other governments could also see their bond markets shrivel.

Rory McCarthy
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

(JS:  The writer could have quoted a few more gems from this ten-year-old article [emphasis mine] ):

The valley of debt

That is not all. After worrying for years about excessive public borrowing, some economists are now, paradoxically, fretting about a shortage of debt instead. Government debt plays an important role in the financial system. Government bonds are used as a broadly risk-free asset against which other financial instruments are priced is worth recalling the early 1970s, when there were also serious worries about a shortage of public debt. Net public debt in OECD economies fell to a post-war low of 17% of GDP. Today, despite the prediction of further declines, that figure stands at 44%. Herbert Hoover is still right: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt”.

22.  Ducking and diving

His study in self-defence

Feb 17th 2011 | from The Economist

Known and Unknown: A Memoir. By Donald Rumsfeld

IT WILL surprise no one that Donald Rumsfeld emerges well from his long memoir. The quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, it appears, were everyone’s fault but his; ditto the failure to make timely use of America’s armed forces when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and ditto a whole string of lesser blunders, such as Gerald Ford’s snubbing of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which occurred while Mr Rumsfeld was chief of staff at the White House back in 1975.

Expecting a mea culpa from a political memoir is like expecting modesty from Lady Gaga: it entirely misses the point. People like Mr Rumsfeld don’t write books for the money; they want to justify themselves. And this Mr Rumsfeld does reasonably well. Beyond the failure to admit any guilt, which will disappoint only those who were expecting the improbable, this book is interesting and even enjoyable. Mr Rumsfeld is the man who, in February 2002, used the phrase “unknown unknowns” to describe the main dangers in any possible confrontation with Iraq. Nearly a decade later, he is still attached to it, as is clear from the book’s title. He is rather less proud of his only other memorable line, said in response to the orgy of destruction that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein: “Stuff happens.”

The reason why this book is still a good read is the extraordinary amount that the author has contrived to pack into his life: a long spell in Congress, a varied series of jobs in Richard Nixon’s dysfunctional White House and then Gerald Ford’s, the ambassadorship to NATO and two turns as defence secretary—as both the youngest and the oldest holder of that office—plus a reasonably illustrious business career in periods of enforced political idleness.

If only Mr Rumsfeld had not responded to George Bush junior’s call-up in 2001, his career would have been judged by history as valuable and successful. Iraq, of course, has ruined all of that, and Mr Rumsfeld will go down, along with Robert McNamara, as one of the two most calamitous holders of his position. His attempt to shift most of the blame on to others—mainly Condoleezza Rice, the then national security adviser, and Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraq—is successful up to a point. It is abundantly clear that Ms Rice badly failed to serve up the right policy options to the president. And it is equally clear that Mr Bremer’s two first edicts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority—to fire every member of the Ba’ath party and to disband the Iraqi army—were catastrophic. Valiantly though he tries in these memoirs, Mr Rumsfeld cannot avoid complicity in both of these debacles.

He was, of course, a central participant in the policy meetings that Ms Rice chaired. And it really is no good blaming Mr Bremer: Mr Bremer worked for him, and if Mr Rumsfeld had any argument with the two decisions, he could and should have taken them to the president. One amusing oddity emerges. In his quest to exonerate himself, Mr Rumsfeld is quite prepared to include Mr Bush—rightly—in his list of the guilty, the latest instalment in a lingering feud between Mr Rumsfeld and both generations of Bushes.

Yet despite the vast influence he wielded, especially in the original decision to go to war on flawed evidence, Dick Cheney (who once upon a time was Mr Rumsfeld’s assistant) escapes with no hint of blame. A final judgment on how America came to blunder so badly in Mesopotamia is still pending: but this book, as well as being a fascinating history, is a clear statement by one of the defendants.

Earth is sick
And Heaven is weary of the hollow words
Which states and Kingdoms utter when they talk
Of truth and justice


23.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

The fun is about to flower
Emotional life of butterflies; human devolution; proclivities of the expat

B5BYMD-007.jpeg Red admiral butterfly Photograph: Derek Harris/Alamy

Do butterflies have fun?
Social ones are reputed to. But it depends on how you define fun, and people's tastes differ.
Joan Dawson, Halifax, NS, Canada

• Of course! The species is continuing.
Martin Cooper, Sydney, Australia

• Yes, with the Camberwell beauty.
Roger Morrell, Perth, Western Australia

• No, because they have not yet evolved the sense of amusement, but if pleasure is fun then they certainly give fun to those who have.
Dick Hedges, Nairobi, Kenya

• The birds and the bees do, so why not the butterflies?
Bob Clark, Nedlands, Western Australia

• They must, since all without distinction have a flutter.
Philip Stigger, Burnaby, BC, Canada

In the wrong direction
Is there any scientific evidence that suggests the human race is devolving?
If by scientific evidence is meant phenomena that can be observed and compared with earlier phenomena, then yes. The Victorian age was the great era of optimism about progress – when the Macaulay and Trevelyan Whig view of history, FD Maurice and Charles Kingsley's Christian socialism and Adolf von Harnack's Protestant liberalism believed that man and society were perfectible and moving towards establishing the kingdom of God on earth.

This Whig/liberal Protestant view took a hard knock with the first world war and was totally discredited by the second world war, with its extermination camps, the A‑bomb and saturation bombing – a reversion to the savagery of Genghis Khan. The decline has continued ever since – culminating in a new acceptance of torture as a justified means of interrogation – a reversion to 17th-century witch-finding. The current practice of body-piercing and tattooing is a 6,000-year retreat to the fashions of the Neolithic era. Retrogressive evolution indeed!
Alaisdair Raynham, Truro, Cornwall, UK

• Yes, evidenced by the youthful penchant for wearing pants so low that they expose their underpants.
Paul Burgess, Darwin, NT, Australia

• The total IQ of the world is finite. The population is increasing.
James Carroll, Geneva, Switzerland

• A political scientist would answer yes.
John Grinter, Katoomba, NSW, Australia

• Regard the GOP.
Peter Roberts, Groton, Massachusetts, US

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