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


1.   You must hear this video on the Living New Deal Project
2.   170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting
3.   Walk the Capitol halls for State Parks March 22
4.   Free water-wise gardening workshop Sat 2 April
5.   Our Sun is blowing smoke rings
6.   Feedback:  oysters/resource for conservation-minded
7.   Canada's experiences with farmed salmon
8.   Fish & Game Director in hot water?  Not if he's already been fired
9.   San Mateo County Parks want your input on how to allocate scarce resources
10. Trails of San Francisco by cartographer Ben Pease March 17
11. Some good news for a change: Tongass Nat'l Forest/off-road rally stopped to save desert tortoise
12. The Clockwork Universe:  Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World
13. Beer: coming to a head.  Mathematicians invent a new way to pour stout
14.  Notes & Queries
15.  LTEs:  The sun and moon differ in northern and southern hemispheres


From David Pilpel:
>  The link to the SFGTV video is:
> Enjoy!  Oh, and thanks for the hike today. 

JS:  I have been promoting the LNDP for last few years, and its founder/director Gray Brechin and I have had many conversations around the various subjects.  However, I have never encountered so much richness, history, and perspective as in this particular talk.  I regret now that I did not attend the lecture.

This has set me off on another crusade.  I will now nag my newsletter recipients to hear this video and to look into the LNDP and history.

I cannot stress too much how important it is for you to listen to this lecture by UC historian Gray Brechin.  It sheds brilliant illumination on the politics of today and how we got to this bizarre condition.  My mind is easily confused by the complexities of contemporary politics, but basic matters attain sudden clarity through the lens of the LNDP and Gray's exposition.  He really has his act together.

I have been sporadically following his Living New Deal Project for a couple of years and have been enlightened by his research and reflections on government.  But this talk, which I unfortunately missed, stunned me in the breadth and depth of the subject, its drama, and its great relevance to the sad subsequent history following the FDR era, where the right-wing successfully captured the Republican Party, manipulated voters to vote them into power, captured most of the media (and all but silenced what they didn't own).  If we are unable to somehow reverse the trend (how?  that's troublesome) it will turn us into a third-world country, no longer a democracy, which depends on a strong middle class, nor a world power.

I hope my recounting of recent dismal political history doesn't turn you off.  Gray has not only brought the FDR legacy projects into focus, he captures the frightening realities of the time, the spirit, intent, and creative, experimental, try-anything to meet a desperate crisis threatening our very existence.  I've heard many talks, exhortations, sermons on the subject of the function of government, what has gone wrong and what we should do to get back on track--nothing, absolutely nothing, brought it all together for me like he did in re-living the LNDP and the times.

(Added note:  Our family of ten might have starved to death if it hadn't been for FDR's Relief Program (food aid) and other measures.  It was not only the economic depression, but severe droughts afflicted much of the west [remember the Dust Bowl?] and we, as dry land farmers, were destitute.)

Shifting topic:  Stories like this stimulate reflections on the nature of human society and its evolution.  I have noticed how strong individuals have sometimes come along at critical moments and changed the course of history.  A few come immediately to mind:  Julius Caesar, Isaac Newton, Napoleon, Beethoven, Wagner, Winston Churchill--and in U.S. history, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR.  Without these leaders what we are today (if we existed at all) would be very very different.

Many have expressed disappointment in Barack Obama.  My view is that history throws up great men only in extraordinary times, times of crisis.  We are not presently in the type of crisis that allows for history-changing type of leadership.  Not enough people are hurting and desperate yet.  The suffering today cannot be compared with that of the 1930s, a point that Gray Brechin underscores.  Otherwise, we would not have voted in an unregenerate Republican Party.  Perhaps the G.O.P. can produce the crisis that can produce change?  While great souls and minds often have changed the course of history, they can't do it if the times are not ripe.  Lincoln or FDR couldn't have surmounted the obstacles that confronted Obama; the time is not ripe.


2.  170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting

Now, more than ever, our country needs a strong public media as a source of non-partisan news, local cultural programming and non-commercial educational programs. Public broadcasting enhances the quality of life of our local communities through its offerings of children’s programming, public affairs, music, and culture that is often not provided by other sources.

 We expect 2011 to be the year when a hard-fought debate over the importance of public media will occur, and we need the support and energy of every possible supporter.

Look for more information to come to you as we get the 170 Million Americans project rolling. If you’re anxious to get started, please do so by making a commitment – right now – to recruit ten friends or family members to join you in support of public broadcasting. It’s easy to do. Just forward this e-mail with a note in your own words about why public broadcasting is important to you, and ask them to click on the link below to sign up.

To join 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting, click here or paste this URL into your browser:


3.  From California State Parks Foundatiion

On Tuesday, March 22, over 150 park supporters from throughout California will walk the halls of the state Capitol to advocate in support of our state parks. And they need YOUR help to lobby for protecting state parks and keeping our parks open.

Although you may not be able to make it to Sacramento, you can add your voice to the chorus of park supporters that are participating in Park Advocacy Day. Please take a moment to send your message of support. Your fellow park advocates will deliver the letters on your behalf when they meet directly with your state Assemblymember and Senator during Park Advocacy Day.

By taking action, your letters will help send a powerful message to your legislators about their constituents’ support for legislation benefiting state parks. Sending your message will take only a couple minutes and will have a tremendous impact on our efforts at Park Advocacy Day. 
(Maybe I should just move to Sacramento for the duration.  JS)


4.  Join the Watershed Project for a FREE water-wise gardening workshop for San Francisco educators, garden coordinators and parents. Participants will learn how to sustain your school garden by conserving water and eliminating pests without harmful chemicals. You'll learn about activities to share with students about bugs, storm water pollution prevention and integrative pest management as well as water conservation and designing a garden to maximize water efficiency.

Free, organic lunch included so reserve your space today!

McKinley Elementary School
1025 14th Street
San Francisco

Registration: Please send an email to or call (510) 269-7TWP

Featured presentations:
Rainwater Harvesting Systems by Kat Sawyer, Tap the Sky Project
Low Impact Design Projects, Matt Freiberg, Greening Urban Watersheds

When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first that is still to come.” 
 Leonardo da Vinci


5.  From Paul Jaber:
> Hey Jake, This is cool....
> Click here: A smoke ring emitted by the sun and captured by an amateur astronomer | Mail Online
Thanks, Paul.  I've seen images and read of the startling phenomena on and around the Sun, but I haven't encountered this fuzz before, nor the detached prominence.  Prominences are usually magnetic loops, and in that intense environment I would expect they would last only seconds, in which case this was sheer luck on the part of the guy.  However, maybe I don't understand--this sentence makes it sound like the remainder of the prominence was hanging around for a long time:  "It shows the aftermath of a large solar flare - or prominence - emitted by an erupting sunspot earlier this month."


6.  Feedback

Linda Hunter:
> Jake, I think you should know that Dr. Cohen's assertions that there were never native olympia oysters in our Bay is quite controversial and goes completely agains the findings of the San Francisco Native Oyster Working Group that consists of many esteemed scientists and the just published Subtidal Goals Project Plan - a plan for restoration of our once pristine Bay in the next 50 years that was funded by NOAA, BCDC, The Ocean Protection Council and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership.

Mark Eaton:
> Hi Jake, This is an amazing resource that should be helpful to almost anyone with a conservation bent.  And it's free too!


7.  "Canada's experiences with farmed salmon should serve as a dire warning to Americans concerned with wild salmon survival.  When will we get it that industrial fish production causes untold environmental damage?"  Ephraim Payne, commenting on Nathan Rice's blog post "Fish (farm) on",


8.  (Hooboy, this sounds rich.  JS)

March 2011  

COMMISSIONER DAN RICHARDS - I'd be remiss if I didn't address Director McCamman's email to us on the frogs and turtles fiasco and misrepresentations that he provided to this commission at our last meeting.  You'll recall that Director McCamman told us that he didn't have any latitude, that he was mandated by statute to issue permits, contrary to the direction that the Commission had previously given him.
Previously we had told him in no uncertain terms to not issue any  more permits.  He took the position that he was mandated to do so and went ahead and did that without further discussion to (sic) us, although he did acknowledge it in a commission meeting.  Since that time, I took the initiative to actually go back and read the statute, because I was dumbfounded that he didn't have any latitude.  And, of course, the statute does NOT say that he's mandated to do so.  And now he's written a memo to us that is more...[long pause]...poppycock, I'll call it.  I have a different thought on what it is.  It's ridiculous.   
The challenge we have ....The structure is woefully broken.  The Department of Fish and Game is supervised, managed and directed by the Fish & Game Commission, yet we don't supervise, manage, direct or discipline the Director.  He takes his direction from the Governor, and the Governor, or his department, his people, whoever,  told him that they wanted the non-native frogs and turtles to be imported alive into the State of California.  So he just took that approach, and is trying to back it up with a bunch of B.S. in this memo.  
That's my position.  I won't go into all the detail.  Each paragraph is so ludicrous that it's ridiculous.  So the process is flawed.  This is just another example of it.  Director McCamman is taking the position that he's STILL correct, regardless of what the facts are, so anytime you want to know why we're dysfunctional, take a look at these kinds of memos and you'll understand it.  Thank you.  
COMMISSIONER SUTTON -  Thank you, Mr. President.  Since Commissioner Richards has brought this up, I have a couple of questions about this memo as well.  Maybe our Counsel can answer them.  I thought that was an extraordinary memo, and I was surprised that the Director  was willing to put on the record that he lacks discretion issuing these standard import permits.  I have a REALLY hard time believing that the Department is required to issue a permit with no exercise of discretion.  If that is true, then why in the world do we have a permit requirement for it at all?   I have NEVER seen a permit regulation where the government has no discretion and must issue it.  It's ridiculous, in fact.  The standard, according to Director McCamman's memo, for issuing long-term permits is, "no significant damage to the wildlife resources of California."  That's what this debate has been about from the beginning.  
We're concerned, as a commission, that the import of frogs and turtles for the live food markets in California could have a detrimental effect on our state wildlife resources.  That's our job, to protect those wildlife resources.  We have talked about this a number of times in the last year.  And now we hear from the Department that it has no discretion to issue standard import permits.  That just is really hard for me to believe.  I'd like the opinion of Counsel, if that's in fact the case.  
PRESIDENT KELLOGG - Commissioner Richards has another comment first.
COMMISSIONER RICHARDS - I just simply want to echo what Mike said there, because that's the part that's so offensive here.  Why do we even have a box to check off for our approval?  It's an insane position to take.  We're supposed to review an application and approve that application, yet he [Director McCamman] takes the position in this memo that he has to approve it.  It's just wrong, it's not the case, and thank you for saying that, Mike, I appreciate it.  
PRESIDENT KELLOGG - O.K., Rick, you're up.
RICK THALHAMMER, COUNSEL, DEPUTY A.G. - If I might....I think it would be probably helpful if we had the Department's counsel address it, rather than me.  I think it's more appropriate to hear from them rather than me what's behind this, rather than me jumping into that fray.  
PRESIDENT KELLOGG - Let's take a five-minute break, since we're on national television, and we don't want a black-out.
CLOSING NOTE FROM PRESIDENT KELLOGG - DFG Director John McCamman will respond to the Commission's concerns at the April 6-7 Commission meeting in Folsom.


9.  The San Mateo County Parks Department wants your input on Parks Budget Reduction Strategies.  San Mateo County is facing a deficit of $82 million for the upcoming budget year. The Parks Department needs to cut 10.6%, or about $655,500, of its operating budget as part of overall County reductions to help address this
deficit problem.

The San Mateo County Parks Department would like some feedback from park users on how to approach this reduction. They need the information by Wednesday, March 16, 2011.

Please follow this link to a short 5 question survey that they would like you to complete to get your input on possible budget reduction strategies.
 Links:   2. 

The San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Commission is holding a special meeting to discuss Parks Department budget reduction strategies and
recommendations.  You are welcome to provide further input.  The meeting is:

March 17, 2011  5:30 p.m.
Board of Supervisors Chambers
400 County Center, 1st Floor
Redwood City, CA  94063

If you have any questions or need a Commission Agenda, you can contact the San Mateo County Parks Department by webpage at, by e-mail at  or by phone at 650.599.1393.


10.  Trails of San Francisco
Guest Speaker: Ben Pease
7:30pm, Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I know it's Saint Patrick's day, but come join us and celebrate afterward :)

We will be looking at exploring San Francisco by foot. Ben Pease will discuss his new Walker's Map of San Francisco, and share some of his favorite trails, parks, and neighborhoods in the City and beyond. How did they get there, anyhow?

A freelance cartographer since 1996, Pease has drawn maps for many Bay Area guidebooks, and has long been involved with the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Coastwalk, and Sutro Stewards. Ben writes about maps, tools, and favorite San Francisco walks and places in his blog: Cartographer's Notebook ( Most recently, Ben served as one of the main cartographers for the new book Infinite City: a San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and friends.

You can find more about all of this at the Pease Press website:

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


11.  From Center for Biological Diversity

Protection Restored for Tongass National Forest

In another big Alaska victory, a judge has ended a lawsuit brought by the Center and allies by vetoing a decision that exempted the majestic Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule, passed in 2001, is meant to protect pristine public forests from destructive activities like road building and resource extraction. But to boost the timber industry, the Bush administration decided the rule wouldn't apply to the Tongass, leaving the 17-million-acre forest wide open to exploitation.
"This is a victory for the wolves, bears, deer, goshawks and other unique species that rely on the untouched old-growth forest of the Tongass for their survival," said the Center's Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. "The Tongass never should have been exempted from the roadless rule, and this court decision provides valuable respite for old-growth-dependent species that have been hammered by unsustainable logging practices in the Tongass."
Read about the Tongass victory in the Los Angeles Times.

Off-road Rally Stopped to Save Tortoise
A quick mobilization by the Center for Biological Diversity helped stop a massive off-road vehicle rally in California that was set to happen smack in the middle of critical habitat for the desert tortoise. Desert activists hiking in Southern California notified us about the event scheduled for earlier this month. It was dubbed "Desert Storm" for the havoc it was supposed to wreak on the sensitive California desert. In fact, the event's promoters hadn't officially notified the public or the Bureau of Land Management about the event; instead they obtained a "parade" permit on the sly from Riverside County.
Less than 24 hours after the Center alerted state and federal wildlife agencies and demanded that the event be stopped, the county withdrew its permit. Last weekend, rangers patrolling the area of the rally's planned mayhem reported peaceful, undisturbed tortoise habitat.
Learn more about our work to save the desert tortoise, other species and pristine lands from becoming off-road wreckage.

Arizona Road Closures Help Endangered Pronghorn
The elegant, elusive and very endangered Sonoran pronghorn will have a more disturbance-free fawning season starting this weekend, which marks the beginning of extensive four-month road closures in its habitat near Ajo, Ariz. Stretching across the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Barry M. Goldwater Range and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the annual closures are meant to protect female pronghorn and their brand-new fawns from vehicles during their most vulnerable time. Concerned about the pronghorn and other species, the Center for Biological Diversity has asked for maps and other data documenting horrendous vehicle damage to Cabeza Prieta, requesting that off-road vehicles be banned from the refuge.
Sonoran pronghorn -- sometimes called "prairie ghosts" for their fleeting appearances on the landscape -- are North America's fastest land mammal, reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. Only about 100 wild individuals are left in the United States, plagued by habitat fragmentation from roads and other activities, grazing, climate change and many other threats.
Read more in the Arizona Daily Star.

Nevada Butterfly Denied Protection, 258th "Candidate"
The Obama administration continues to add to the long list of species that badly need Endangered Species Act protection but won't get it. In response to a 2010 Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week denied protection to the Mount Charleston blue, a rare southern Nevada butterfly. Only known to survive in two remaining spots, the colorful, one-inch-long butterfly is threatened by habitat loss, fire suppression, drought and other factors -- and the Service itself has declared that the butterfly deserves federal protection. But instead of granting that protection, the feds have placed the tiny invertebrate on the "candidate list" to join 257 other needy plants and animals that have been pushed aside to wait indefinitely for help.
On average, candidate species wait a whopping 20 years to earn protection; at least two dozen candidates have gone extinct while they waited. To date, the administration has hit a rate of protecting only 29 species a year, compared to Clinton's 65 per year and Bush Sr.'s 58 per year.
Get more from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 


12.  The birth of modern science
Last of the sorcerers

Mar 10th 2011 | from The Economist print edition

The men of the scientific revolution

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World. By Edward Dolnick.

THE 1600s were not, on the face of it, an obvious candidate for the description of the “age of genius”. It was a world in which everyone was God-fearing and when everything from floods to comets was seen as the inscrutable (and unchallengeable) will of a jealous, stern deity.

Yet it was from this unpromising soil that the modern, scientific world-view bloomed. Edward Dolnick’s project is to chronicle the thinkers and the discoveries that made it possible. The result is at once a biography of men such as Gottfried Liebniz, Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler, a layman’s description of the significance of their work and an evocative piece of cultural history. It is the story of humanity’s (or at any rate Europe’s) liberation from a pious fatalism that saw every fire and plague as divine punishment for some mortal transgression or other.

The crowning achievement of the age—Newton’s Philosophić Naturalis Principia Mathematica—is among the most influential books ever written; those with the mathematical fortitude to make sense of its deliberately obscure diagrams are struck dumb with admiration. The equations derived by the eccentric genius are still used to design cars, build bridges and send spacecraft into the cosmos.

But the legacy of the age is more than just a set of useful theories. The intuition of men like Newton and Kepler that, beneath the apparent chaos of everyday life, the universe is a regular, ordered machine that can be described with a few simple equations proved—amazingly—to be correct. It is this idea of universality that is the true legacy of the scientific revolution. That the same simple rules describe the fall of an apple, the flight of a cannonball and the movements of the heavens is hugely heartening, for it suggests that despite its fearsome complexity, the universe is something that can be comprehended by mortal minds. That, in turn, opens the way to the modern notion of progress. After all, what is comprehensible can be tinkered with and, in time, improved.

The standard account tells us that the new science broke the stranglehold that the church and a few of its favoured pagan thinkers (chiefly Aristotle) had exerted for centuries on Western thought. That is broadly true, but as Mr Dolnick demonstrates, the reality was a good deal more complicated. The proto-scientists did not spring into being as paid-up believers in modern materialism and rationality. Newton divided his time between pursuits that today we would recognise as science and older, much more arcane disciplines such as alchemy and an obsessive search for numerological codes in the Bible. As John Maynard Keynes, a British economist, observed after buying a trove of Newton’s papers, these men were not the first of the scientists, but the last of the sorcerers.

Indeed, for many of the fledgling scientists, their conviction that the universe was an orderly place sprang from their religious belief. Newton intended his great system of the world as a tribute to a dazzlingly deft geometer-god. When others took it to suggest that, once the universal clockwork was wound up there would be no further need for divine intervention to keep the planets in their orbits, he was dismayed. Like many revolutionaries, he perhaps did not comprehend the full extent of what he had helped to unleash.


13.  Beer
Coming to a head

Mathematicians invent a new way to pour stout

Mar 10th 2011 | from The Economist print edition
20110312_stp004.jpgThe answer in black and white

ON MARCH 17th, St Patrick’s day, countless pints of Irish stout will be poured in pubs and homes around the world. As they sup their beer, revellers might do well to give a nod to the technology that makes possible the creamy head which sits atop it—for unlike the natural head on an ale or a lager, the head on stout is a work of art.

To make it foam, draught stout is forced through a special plate. Bottled and canned versions require the intervention of a tiny beer-widget. This is a hollow plastic sphere that, upon the container being opened, releases a jet of gas into the beer. When introduced, the widget was the subject of an incredibly irritating advertising campaign, apparently conceived by marketing types who were terrified their customers might be put off by such an elegant piece of technology.

The widget’s days, though, may be numbered, for a crack group of mathematicians from the University of Limerick, led by William Lee, has modelled bubble formation in stout beers in detail. Their work suggests that lining the rims of cans and bottles with a material similar to an ordinary coffee filter would be a simpler, cheaper alternative to the widget. The team’s calculations show that a copious number of bubbles would form from air trapped inside the hollow fibres making up this lining. They have just submitted their work for publication in Physical Review E and are hoping that industry will soon begin testing their proposal.

Most beers are pressurised with carbon dioxide. Stouts, though, use a mixture of that gas and four times its volume of nitrogen. This makes the beer less acidic, and also produces smaller, creamier bubbles. But nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide. Hence the need for the widget. And the widget adds to the container’s cost, so brewers of stout would be delighted to find a way to get rid of it.

In that spirit representatives of Diageo, which owns Guinness, one of the most widely sold brands of stout, approached Dr Lee in 2009. They wondered if he might be able to construct a mathematical model of the formation and growth of bubbles in stout. Dr Lee was happy to oblige. And once he had produced the model, he started thinking more about the problem. He wondered why the normal mechanism of bubbling in beers and sparkling wines does not appear to work in stouts.

Conventional wisdom used to hold that once the pressure inside a bottle or can has been released by opening it, the bubbles in a fizzy drink, whether alcoholic or not, are seeded by pockets of air trapped in scratches and imperfections on the surface of the glass being drunk from. Over the past decade, however, scientific scrutiny has revealed that most bubbles actually form on fibres of cellulose that have either fallen into the glass from the air or been left behind when it was dried with a towel. These fibres, which are generally hollow, trap a small amount of air in their interiors.

To see what is going on in stouts, Dr Lee and his team wrote down the equations governing the physics of the dissolved gases and fibres. They found that molecules of nitrogen and carbon dioxide are able to diffuse from the liquid through the walls of the fibres into the air pockets trapped inside them, causing those pockets of air to expand. If a pocket reaches the end of a fibre, it breaks off as a bubble.

The problem, as far as stouts are concerned, is that the low concentration of dissolved nitrogen means the process works at only a 15th of the rate seen in ales and lagers. But Dr Lee has an answer to that: more cellulose. He and his team spiked their beer with extra fibres from a cut-up coffee filter and watched the bubbles form under a microscope. By crunching the numbers from these observations, they calculate that lining a can of stout with nine square centimetres of fibres should form a head as good as that produced by a widget. If their method works on an industrial scale it will have two benefits. Stout will be cheaper. And those irritating adverts proclaiming that you do not need to know how a widget works in order to enjoy its benefits will disappear for ever.

14.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

You are getting very sleepy
Is human suggestibility an asset or a hard-wired pathology?

Suggestibility is an asset. Really. An asset, I say. Suggestibility is good.
Iain Murray, Toronto, Canada

Sunning in the Algarve
Do butterflies have fun?
Wearing garish colours, spending hours sunning themselves and the rest of the time getting drunk on nectar – sounds like a British holidaymaker having a great time!
Susan Irwin, Oldenburg, Germany

• Just look at the number of caterpillars in your vegetable patch. A short happy life of nectar and carefree sex on the wing. Who would metamorphose to anything different?
David Isaacs, Sydney, Australia

When you can't tip the cap
When did British people stop bowing (in the literal sense of the word)?
Literally they haven't, I hope, particularly in the personal presence of top royalty. Tradition demands respect. Figuratively speaking, "tugging the forelock" went out when Clement Attlee came in.
Dick Hedges, Nairobi, Kenya

• When they became convinced of their own superiority.
Nigel Grinter, Chicago, Illinois, US

You may fire when ready
Why do your most entertaining queries consist of "why" followed by an unproven assertion?
Because that style of query leads naturally to the most entertaining answers – ones that consist of "because" followed by another unproven assertion.
Doug Nichols, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Any answers?
Why, despite its manifest failings, is representative democracy considered the best form of government?
John Grinter, Katoomba, NSW, Australia

Why are tennis balls furry?
David Spicer, Sydney, Australia


15.  LTEs, The Economist

The sun and the moon

SIR – As an astronomer I scratched my head over a letter in which a reader suggested a mnemonic using your hands for distinguishing between a waxing and waning moon. He did this to point out your apparent incorrect caption of a waxing moon in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, his mnemonic would only work in the northern hemisphere, where the moon is observed in the southern sky with the right side of the moon sunward during the waxing phase and the left side sunward during the waning phase.

In the southern hemisphere the moon is in the northern sky and its left and right sides reverse. The Economist can take solace that the original picture showing the waxing phase on the left side of the moon in Rio was indeed correct.

John Nousek
Boalsburg, Pennsylvania

SIR - The letter helpfully pointed out the way to tell a waxing from a waning moon: extend the right arm then the thumb and index finger to illustrate a waxing moon and do the same with the left hand to illustrate a waning moon. That is correct, assuming that those observing the moon in the southern hemisphere do so standing on their heads.

David Woodward
Abu Dhabi

SIR – The failure to appreciate the inverted view of astronomical objects caught out the BBC several years ago during a live broadcast from Australia of the transit of Venus across the Sun. After an embarrassing delay when Venus failed to appear at the precisely predicted time at the top-left hand edge of the Sun, someone noticed that Venus had in fact appeared at the bottom right-hand edge, resulting in a hasty re-adjustment of the camera.

Chris Brookings
Collyweston, Northamptonshire

Vehicular assault

SIR – You dated the first fatal accident with a car, or horseless carriage, as occurring in London in 1896. In fact, the first such accident happened in Birr, Ireland, in 1869 when Mary Ward, a botanist, was thrown from Lord Rosse’s steam-powered road carriage and t
For updates and info, contact scott at planttrees dot org.