Plant Trees SF Events 2015 Archive: 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018


"We have only to look at the houses we build to see how we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness.  We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there." 	Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

1.   Presidential candidates:  beware of god endorsing you; he changes his mind
2.   Exclusively San Bruno Mountain native plants sale February 21
3.   Sex in Livermore February 15
4.   E.O. Wilson on the meaning of human existence/try to find meaning on the Fish & Game Commission
5.   Bobcat trapping in California
6.   Poet Donald Hall sniffs Old Roses
7.   BioBlitz in Golden Gate Park March 7
8.   BioBlitz in Outer Sunset February 22
9.   LTEs on population/economic system broken?
10. The rise in sea levels may be accelerating
11.  Global Footprint Network
12.  We celebrate the birth of the guy who linked carbon dioxide concentrations to global temperature, Guy Stewart Callendar
13.  Cool photo: western bluebird returns to restored area
14.  David Whyte utters a New Year Prayer
15.  A hard disk drive weighing >a ton, storing a whopping 5 MB of data
16.  Why the war between the North and South mattered to the rest of the world
17.  You've just got to love the British

A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

The beginning of 2015 means the starting of engines in the US presidential race. The elections will be held in late 2016, but around here we like to start early.

POTUS, the President of the United States, is a potent title. Stakes are high. If you have your eyes on the big prize, it helps to have endorsements from powerful people. And if you can manage to get the nod from the ultimate power, things should be breezy.

In the last election for the US president, no fewer than three presidential hopefuls received the backing of god. Clearly god likes to hedge his bets. Not sure why he changed his mind later on and dumped all three endorsees.

All the religious posturing by these politicians to convey their goodness should be an obvious turn off. Unfortunately, many voters want the candidates to wear their religion on their sleeves. Contrary to what they believe, religiosity doesn't necessarily imply goodness. Religion is a personal thing. People should be free to spend as much time as they want in their places of worship or in their homes, praying to a god of their choosing. Why get government involved in the business of god (or god in the business of government)?

Why not vote for the most capable candidate irrespective of whether she bows to a particular god, or how often, or how long? Mixing religion and state is like mixing water and petrol. It spoils both. And it creates a hazard.

At one time both the religious leader and the political leader was one and the same person. In some places that’s still the norm and the results are disastrous.

San Bruno Mountain Watch invites you to explore its Mission Blue Nursery at its February 2015 Native Plant Sale and load up on drought-tolerant natives. We think the Mission Blue Nursery is kind of special - we sell exclusively plants native to San Bruno Mountain and adapted to San Bruno Mountain and the northern SF Peninsula.

February 21st, Saturday
9am to 2pm
Mission Blue Nursery
near 3401 Bayshore Blvd
Brisbane CA
Google Map

Complete information and an updated plant list can be found at our February 2015 Native Plant Sale page. 

Sale proceeds support the work of San Bruno Mountain Watch on the Mountain.  Check out what's going on with our Stewardship Volunteer Programs - there are weekly opportunities to join us at the nursery or in the field for our restoration work. 

Now is planting time and we could use your help! - come play in the dirt on the Mountain on Saturdays throughout February! Of course, you can continue to come to our weekly Stewardship Saturday outings throughout the year.


3.  Sex.  In Livermore?

Animal Magnetism
Sunday, Feb. 15    4:30 p.m.

Valentine’s Day has just passed, a day when thoughts of romance race through our minds. Along with romantic thoughts invariably come thoughts of sex. Nature has provided many astounding behaviors and forms to ensure the continuation of species which is, after all, what sex is all about. Join me to learn about reproductive strategies of plants and animals around the world.  This program is best for a mature audience.

Ranger Dawn Soles
Ravenswood Historic Site
2647 Arroyo Road, Livermore

There is no fee for parking or the program but we appreciate donations to help support our interpretive programs. ($3 per person suggested.) Those with questions can call the LARPD ranger office at (925) 960 2400 or email me at

The schedule of other upcoming LARPD Nature Programs can be found here:
This month's programs include a night hike, a walk and talk about Livermore history, and a bobcat focused walk!

On Feb 7, 2015, at 11:22 PM, Eric Mills wrote:
Hey, Jake -
You read this book?  It's a good'un, with lots of provocative material.

A few remarkable excerpts from renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson's latest book, "THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE" (2014, only 202pp) -- RECOMMENDED READING!  (All the more remarkable since the good Professor was raised a Southern Baptist.)  See also, inter al, his 2006 book, "The Creation:  An Appeal to Save Life on Earth."


"Human existence may be simpler than we thought.  There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life.  Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance.  Instead, we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world."

"We have become the mind of the planet and perhaps our entire corner of the galaxy as well.  We can do with Earth what we please.  We chatter constantly about destroying it--by nuclear war, climate change, an apocalyptic Second Coming foretold by Holy Scripture."

MY FAVORITE:  "The problem holding everything up thus far is that Homo sapiens is an innately dysfunctional species."

"Further, the great majority of people worldwide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural power in order to compete for the obedience and resources of the faithful."

"Too paralyzed with self-absorption to protect the rest of life, we continue to tear down the natural environment, our species' irreplaceable and most precious heritage.  And it is still taboo to bring up population policies aiming for an optimum people density, geographic distribution, and age distribution.  The idea sounds 'fascist,' and in any case can be deferred for another generation or two--we hope."

"People find it hard to care about other people beyond their own tribe or country, and even then past one or two generations.  It is harder still to be concerned about animal species--except for dogs, horses, and others of the very few we have domesticated to be our servile companions."

"Our leaders--religious, political, and business--mostly accept supernatural explanations of the human existence.  Even if privately skeptical, they have little interest in opposing religious leaders and unnecessarily stirring up the populace, from whom they draw power and privilege"

"Scientists who might contribute to a more realistic worldview are especially disappointing.  Largely yeomen, they are intellectual dwarves content to stay within the narrow specialties for which they were trained and are paid."

AND TO THROW A LITTLE MARK TWAIN INTO THE MIX:  "Faith is believing in something you know ain't true."

On Feb 8, 2015, at 7:42 PM, wrote:
I think he was onto something with that "Homo sapiens is innately dysfunctional" stuff.  Must have been attending Fish & Game Commission meetings....

I do like that he takes the scientists to task for being so shy about going public with their findings.

February 8, 2015


The Fish & Game Commission meets in Sacramento this Wednesday & Thursday,  February 11-12, at the Resources Building, 1416 Ninth Street (near the Capitol).  Parking garage nearby, 10th & N Streets.

BE THERE AS A VOICE FOR OUR BELEAGUERED WILDLIFE.  The THURSDAY meeting begins at 8:00 a.m., and promises to be the most interesting of the two days.  On the agenda that day are mammal hunting regulations; trapping of bobcats (with the possibility of a ban); lead ammo ban implementation; and the importation of live American bullfrogs for the live animal food markets (item 32).

See link below to a "White Paper" on the bullfrog importation issue (one we've been fighting for 20+ years).  The Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) seems to favor halting the import permits, whereas DFW Director Chuck Bonham (in his cover letter), seems to favor continuing to issue short-term permits.  Will be interesting to see which triumphs:  Science and Environmental Protection, or Politics-and-Money-As-Usual.

I'll never forget the 2010 Commission meeting when the members voted unanimously (5:0), instructing the DFW to cease issuing import permits for both frogs and turtles for human consumption.  Only weeks later, then-Director John McCammon announced that he would continue the permits on a month-to-month basis.  Challenged by an irate Commission President Dan Richards, then-DFW Deputy Director Sonke Mastrup (now Exec. Director of the Commission), weakly responded, "The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor."  Say what?!  So much for the democratic process and environmental protection.  Makes one wonder if these public hearings are a hoax.  Adding insult to injury, the Commission continues to put "Public Forum" last thing on the agenda at the end of the day, when the audience has been long-departed, along with a Commissioner or two.  They should agendize "Public Forum" first thing up.  Would be far more "user-friendly," enable many more people to hear the public's concerns, and would NOT lengthen the meetings.  Let 'em hear from you!

Sonke Mastrup, Exec. Director, Fish & Game Commission, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA  95814; email -  (NOTE:  Resources Secretary JOHN LAIRD, and DFW Director CHUCK BONHAM are at the same address.  Email - Mr. Laird -; Mr. Bonham -


JS:   Eric, is it still called the Fish & Game Commission? Why?

On Feb 8, 2015, at 8:05 PM, wrote:

When the Dept. of Fish & Game changed its name recently to Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, the Commission, for reasons unclear, decided to stick with their old name.  Mostly, I suppose, that's what they concentrated on:  fishing and hunting.

Me, I would have called both the Dept. of Wildlife or Wildlife Commission.  We tend to forget that fish are wildlife, too, not just "seafood."

There are also major conflicts of interests.  The DFW director and the members are all appointed by the Governor.  The Commission gets all its money and scientific data from the Dept.  Nor does the Commission have much real authority.  The general public believes the Commission tells the Dept. what to do, and the Dept. does it.  Not so.  Prime example:  The Commission voted 5:0 (twice!) back in 2010 to cease the frog/turtle permits.  Never happened.  And here we 20 years later fighting the same battle all over again.  "Dysfunctional," indeed.

Interesting that Director Bonham favors retaining the short-term permits, yet the Dept. seems to recommend a total ban.  Go figger.


5.  Ban bobcat trapping in California

Old Roses 
by Donald Hall

White roses, tiny and old, flare among thorns
by the barn door.
                                For a hundred years
under the June elm, under the gaze
of seven generations,
                                        they lived briefly
like this, in the month of roses,
                                                          by the fields
stout with corn, or with clover and timothy
making thick hay,
                                  grown over, now,
with milkweed, sumac, paintbrush.
roses survive
winter drifts, the melt in April, August
             and men and women
who sniffed roses in spring and called them pretty
as we call them now,
                                       walking beside the barn
on a day that perishes.

From White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin, 2006


7.  BioBlitz in Golden Gate Park

The California Academy of Sciences, together with Nerds for Nature, Nature in the City and iNaturalist will be holding a bioblitz of eastern Golden Gate Park-from Crossover Drive to the Panhandle on Saturday March 7th. 

We would love your help promoting the event, your participation as a leader of a bioblitz group or just having you and your friends and family as participants. 

Please forward this to anyone you think may be interested in participating. 

A grassroots bioblitz is an intensive one-day study of biodiversity in a specific location-in this case the eastern part of Golden Gate Park- bringing scientists, naturalists, volunteer citizen-scientists and neighbors together.  Over the course of the morning, we will document as much biodiversity as possible and build community at the same time! We will enter all of our observations in iNaturalist and join together at the end to find out how many observations we made and how many species we found.

Group leaders need to help wrangle groups, but mostly just need to enjoying facilitating discovery!  

We are all about participants discovering and exploring at their own pace.  This is not a guided nature walk. That being said, great naturalists--like you-- make good leaders and are the best at modeling 'how to observe and discover' and how to take photos most useful for identification.

We would love to have you and or members of your teams and communities on board. 

Outer Sunset BioBlitz- please RSVP here!
Date: Sunday, February 22
Time: 9am-1:30pm
Meeting Location: Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center
What you need: A smartphone or a camera (fully powered!), water bottle, snacks and sunscreen if needed
Help us BioBlitz our gardens and the surrounding areas in the Outer Sunset- come out and observe the natural world around you!
Friends of the Urban Forest, in partnership with Nature in the City, is offering a chance for you to connect with your inner naturalist.
A BioBlitz is an attempt to survey and record all living species within a designated area during a determined time period. We will be using iNaturalist (a website and smartphone app) to record observations for the day.
Download the (FREE) iNaturalist app today!
We will have a brief introduction (with coffee and pastries) from 9-9:30am. Then we will snap photos of critters until 12:30pm when we will meet together again for an upload session and some lunch!
Any questions? Contact Madalyn Watkins.

LTEs, Guardian Weekly

Problems of population

Your report on the studies that reveal we have crossed planetary boundaries (Humans ‘eating away’ at life on Earth, 23 January) was deeply concerning. Despite noting that urban populations had increased sevenfold since 1950, there was no other mention of population size as being a contributing factor.

There is a critical need to stabilise population numbers as soon as possible. Amartya Sen (23 January) largely skirted around the issue in his article endorsing universal health care (UHC). He cited the social and economic improvements in a number of places that have adopted UHC: Thailand, Rwanda, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Cuba and the Indian state of Kerala. It happens that these places have also had family planning programmes that have brought down fertility rates. Was it UHC or the reduction in the population growth rate that brought the improvement in welfare in these countries?

Whichever it was, the involvement of women is critical. Bangladesh’s rapid progress, according to Sen, is due to women having a significant role in healthcare and education as well as spreading knowledge about family planning.

We have a great deal to learn from these countries. If we are to avert further deterioration of the planet, a number of strategies must be employed, including bringing population growth to a rapid end. That is best achieved through family planning, ideally within a universal healthcare framework, and by raising the status of women.
Jenny Goldie
Michelago, NSW, Australia

Population – crossing planetary boundaries. Illustration: Gary Kempston

• Your article about the growth of Kabul (23 January) is informative but lacks context about population growth in Afghanistan as a whole. In 1979 the national population was about 15.5 million, in 2013 it was 31 million and the projection for 2050 is 82 million – more than five times the 1979 figure. These numbers represent a doubling every 30 years or so, despite all the deaths from warfare and disease. Given the country’s internal conflicts, lack of resources and poor land, how can future disaster be avoided? China has been widely criticised for efforts to stabilise population through its one-child policy, but has this not been a major factor in that country’s dramatic economic success?

The important role of rapid population growth in many of the world’s conflicts and in global social, economic and environmental problems is too often ignored by writers and speakers, in a form of political correctness that seems to consider the subject too sensitive for public discussion or action.

The huge sums spent on agricultural intensification and infrastructure in countries with rapid growth rates might have been more usefully focused on programmes and incentives for family size reduction. If we cannot stabilise or reduce human populations, the future for life on the planet seems bleak.
Charles Neill
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Let’s widen our sympathies

Aussi moi! Je suis Charlie! Alongside millions I too repudiate Muslim gunmen heartlessly bloodying beautiful Paris in accordance with warped precepts (16 January). Mais…

This atrocity, openly committed in a first-world city, targeted people like us. Not so straightforward is solidarity with those languishing uncharged in hidden Guantánamo Bay cells, tortured by white American boys, perhaps called Charlie. Drone strikes that kill burka-clad women and children in a nameless Afghani village elicit no Je suis Fatima marches. They are too far away – physically, culturally and emotionally. Disconnected.

But if gunmen in American or British military uniforms kill to fulfil the warped precepts of our Christian leaders, they’re not “evil”. They’re “our boys”. And we re-elect the leaders whose designs they implement. “Good healthcare policy”, we say, or “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Of course, I deplore atrocities against people with whom I identify. But when I express equal solidarity for others brutalised by groups to which I belong, then I can truly claim Je suis humaine.
Jeph Mathias
Mussoorie, India

No doubt your article entitled Is our economic system broken? (2 January) is correct in that there are critical infrastructural problems with the economy, and that many believe there are several potential “short-term or medium-term fixes that will put matters right”.

But there’s a much more fundamental problem: our cultural mindset on what the economy should deliver is intrinsically flawed. Economic growth cannot continue indefinitely for our civilisation because the environmental resources on which it is ultimately based are not growing – they are finite. There is only so much oil, water, soil, iridium etc on the planet. Although new technologies may overcome particular constraints, most depend on the availability of some finite resource or other, and therefore are not ultimate solutions, and in the longer term they often exacerbate problems. Nevertheless, even though the writing is on the wall, almost all politicians, economists and voters remain steadfastly devoted to the fallacy of perpetual economic growth.

This perspective is gloomy but it’s the reality. Fully recognising and accepting this reality is the first critical step toward putting ourselves on a path toward equitable, perpetual, sustainable human existence. “A dark age” does indeed loom but the question is, just how dark does it need to be? It would be a huge leap forward if our society were to truly acknowledge that the global economy cannot grow indefinitely. Then, and only then, could we start to transform our economic mindset – our whole cultural ideology – from doing more with more to doing less with less.
Paul Grogan
Kingston, Ontario, Canada

• Your article asks the question: is our economic system broken? The system we now have, throughout most of the world, is based on a neoliberal ideology, or in other words, a relatively unfettered capitalism. This system tends to transfer wealth from the general populace to a few persons at the top. The increase in inequality has been particularly strong since 1980, when this system was adopted by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It is not working because of inadequate economic redistribution; or one could say it is broken. It has impacted the Nordic nations less severely because their system has stronger redistribution mechanisms through their taxation and welfare policies. Unfortunately, the ideology is so well entrenched today that governments are blind to its effects and unable to contemplate any other approach. This is due mainly to the control of governments by those who benefit from this system. Is there any chance that this dysfunctional ideology can be overcome by anything less than a revolution?
D Kerr
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

Oceans and climate science

Higher water mark

The rise in sea levels may be accelerating

Jan 17th 2015 The Economist

TIDES ebb and flow but mean sea levels are among the constants of climate science. Though things like the recent slowdown in the rise of average surface temperatures are puzzling, scientists can at least point to higher sea levels as clear evidence that climate change is real. The rise is caused by thermal expansion (hot water expands) and by melting ice sheets. And the facts are observable: thousands of gauges—such as that pictured above—measure tides around the world, with some records going back to the 18th century.

But this evidence is not as irrefutable as it might seem. The coverage of tidal gauges is patchy. Most are in coastal waters, so the high seas are poorly measured. The majority are in the northern hemisphere. Few are near the poles. The records, says Carling Hay of Harvard University, are “very noisy [and] sparse”. It was not until the spread of satellite observations in the 1990s that measurement of sea levels became reliable and global. All sorts of adjustments are needed to make sense of earlier data and produce a complete record.

Dr Hay and her colleagues have come up with a new way of doing this, reported in this week’s Nature. They use a statistical technique called probabilistic estimation in which probabilities are assigned to estimated or unknown figures. The technique is fashionable; last year demographers from the United Nations used it to produce new projections for the world’s population in 2050 and 2100.

The team re-examined records from 622 tidal gauges (about a third of the total) since 1900. Applying probabilistic techniques, she puts mean sea-level rise between 1901 and 1990 at 1.2mm a year, plus or minus 0.2mm. That is much lower than previous estimates. The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, which represents mainstream climate scientists) said sea levels had risen about 1.7mm a year in 1901-2010.

This new, low figure, if confirmed, would explain a puzzle in climate science: that estimates of sea-level rise have been much greater than you would have expected if you had looked just at the main causes of the rise, namely thermal expansion and the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These, according to the IPCC, account for a sea-level rise of only about 1.2mm a year, leaving 0.5mm unexplained. But if Dr Hay is right, the puzzling difference between the predicted and real figures disappears.

So estimates of 20th-century sea-level rise may have been exaggerated. Does that mean global warming itself is being overstated? Unfortunately not. Dr Hay applied her probabilistic techniques to more recent tidal-gauge data (between 1993 and 2010). Her estimates give a mean sea-level rise of 3mm a year in that period, almost exactly the same as estimates from satellite data. In other words, her study confirms that sea levels are now rising as much as had been thought. But 3mm a year, instead of being less than twice as fast as the 20th-century average, appears to be almost three times as fast.

If this acceleration were to continue, the problem could get worse. A study last year, commissioned by Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, and three former American Treasury secretaries reckoned that rising seas could put American property worth $66 billion-106 billion under water (literally) by 2050. It used previous estimates. If the new numbers are any guide, the damage would be greater still.

Global Footprint Network
Advancing the Science of Sustainability

National Footprint Is your country an ecological creditor or debtor?

City Footprint Accounting for your community’s future

Human Development Ensuring human well-being

We celebrate the birth of the guy who linked carbon dioxide concentrations to global temperature

Guy Stewart Callendar (February [birthdate not known] 1898 - October 1964) was an English steam engineer and inventor. His main contribution to knowledge was developing the theory that linked rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to global temperature. This theory, earlier proposed by Svante Arrhenius, has been called the Callendar effect. Callendar thought this warming would be beneficial, delaying a "return of the deadly glaciers."

In 1938, Callendar was the first to demonstrate that global land temperatures had increased over the previous 50 years, and these estimates have now been shown to be remarkably accurate, especially as they were performed without the aid of a computer.  In an exercise performed in 2013, an application of Callendar's formula was shown to outperfom all 12 CMIP5 RCP4.5 models for 1940-2013.  Callendar assessed nowadays climate sensitivity value at 2°, which is on the lowest end of the IPCC range but very much in consistency of modern values.

Writer's Almanac

Acterra - This Week's Cool Photo Is...

Photo: Eli Akerib
Want to see what can happen when you remove invasive plants and install locally native wildlife habitat? Here's a photo of a Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana, that appeared after Acterra Stewardship staff and their workday volunteers cleared invasive thistle from McClellan Ranch Preserve. Bluebirds hadn't been seen in the Preserve for YEARS. So, seeing a flock of bluebirds after an exhausting workday was a special treat for staff and volunteers.

Our local critters are losing their homes and food sources due to continued development. Please help them by installing and maintaining native plant habitats -- there are resources above that can help you. Thank you!

Got cool photos and stories that you want to share? Post them on Acterra's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.


New Year Prayer
This robust heart involved
with too many worlds
for its own good,
this portion of creation
constantly trying
to make its self singular,
this chef at home in the kitchen
among the gleam of knives,
among eclectic bottles,
sometimes dreaming
as a hermit among leaves,
drinking the centuries
of inherited silence,
sometimes the
social host opening
the doors and lighting
the candles,
often a father lifting his daughter
high up above him
and then
the husband
sheltered by night
to talk and talk again,
too often now
as the years go by
the son worrying
for a father sitting
Atlantic miles away,
in a silent
remembered parallel.
And now this
other parallel,
this symmetry
for everything
on the outside,
the writer in winter
at his desk,
caught in the light,
beneath the window,
bringing together
the last and the first,
the middle and the edge,
the near and the far,
the troubled lives
all calling for the one line
and the one life,
for creation came together
in a central
unspoken wish,
to be held
and made one
like a god's blessing
out of nowhere,
the pen
touching a wound
that heals them all.
~ David Whyte ~
(River Flow)


It's a hard disk drive  back in 1956... with 5 MB of storage.  

In September 1956 IBM launched the 305 RAMAC, the  first 'SUPER' computer with a hard disk drive (HDD). The HDD  weighed over a ton and stored a whopping 5  MB of data.

(And I have in my hand--always in danger of getting lost between the sofa cushions--a thumb drive with 8 gigabytes.  However, I think it was a better world then.

Ned Ludd)

It's a reminder of what the 19th-century educator Horace Mann once too-loftily said: "Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge."

(I think he had computer geeks, bureaucracy functionaries, CEOs, university professors, celebrities, sports announcers, and various assorted self-important poobahs in mind.)

Democracy and America’s civil war

The whole family of man

Why the war between North and South mattered to the rest of the world

The Economist

The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. By Don Doyle

HISTORIANS of the American civil war find themselves in the same unenviable position as Shakespeare scholars: so thoroughly have their fields of study been tilled that finding a nearly virgin corner is all but impossible. But Don Doyle, a professor at the University of South Carolina, has broken new ground in an enlightening and compellingly written book, “The Cause of All Nations”. More than any previous study, it tells the story of how America’s civil war was perceived, debated and reacted to abroad, and how that reaction shaped the course of the war at home.

Mr Doyle reminds readers that the war began just 13 years after the European uprisings of 1848. It looked as though America’s then 80-year experiment with self-government was nearing a violent end; European royalists and aristocrats reacted with glee, republicans with despair.

Both the Union and the Confederacy eagerly sought foreign support and funding. In retrospect it seems clear how the sides should have aligned: the abolitionist Union should have found a natural partner among republicans, who were pushing for greater popular sovereignty in Europe, whereas the Confederacy, with its pseudo-aristocracy resting on the profits of forced labour, should have appealed to Europe’s reactionary forces.

At the war’s outset, however, things were not so simple. Confederate diplomats framed their struggle in accordance with liberal principles of self-determination. They judged the conflict, Mr Doyle notes, to be “one arising naturally between industrial and agrarian societies, not freedom and slavery.” The North’s response, meanwhile, was flat-footed, legalistic and intemperate. America’s secretary of state threatened to “wrap the whole world in flames”, promising total war on any state that dared aid the Confederacy. For domestic reasons, Abraham Lincoln, then America’s president, was unwilling to cite slavery as the war’s principal point of disputation.

European observers showed no such hesitancy, nor did the Confederacy. (Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice-president, said that its cornerstone “rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”) Giuseppe Garibaldi, a hero of the 1848 uprisings, was set to amass an army to fight for the North. He demurred largely because the Union was unwilling to declare emancipation as the war’s goal. Carl Schurz, ambassador to Spain, urged Union officials in Washington to “place the war against the rebellious slave States upon a higher moral basis and thereby give us the control of public opinion in Europe.”

Schurz comes off as one of the most perspicacious characters in Mr Doyle’s book, but that is rather like being the tallest midget in the circus. Once the Union at last firmly identified with the ending of slavery, public opinion in Europe moved slowly but inexorably in its favour, though that shift owed more to existing anti-slavery sentiment in Europe than to any particular skill among Union diplomats. Their Confederate counterparts were even less competent; whatever brief successes they enjoyed owed more to European rulers’ desire to see America fail for strategic reasons than to any sympathy with the Southern cause. (Napoleon III wanted to expand France’s overseas influence and saw a united America as a military impediment and the Confederacy as a potential ally, whereas Britain’s prime minister, Lord Palmerston, feared the spread and appeal of republican democracy and saw a united America as a political threat.)

Most histories of the civil war turn inward at the end and examine the war’s consequences and legacy for America. Mr Doyle turns outward to show how important America’s civil war was to the rest of the world: liberty and democracy defeated slavery and the landed gentry.

The Union’s victory had wider repercussions. In Spain, Queen Isabella, fearing American naval power, ended the attempted recolonisation of Santo Domingo; three years later she was overthrown. Ulysses Grant, a civil-war general, turned his military attention south, to Mexico, where Napoleon III had installed an Austrian, Maximilian, as emperor. When the threat of an alliance between France and the Confederacy was dashed, Napoleon withdrew his support and in 1867 Maximilian was executed by Mexican troops. Across the ocean, Britain’s republicans marched to victory that same year, forcing the passage of the Reform Act, while Napoleon III lasted just four more years, until the Paris Commune seized France’s capital. Democracy had not just survived, but flourished.

After Lincoln’s death Avenir National, a French newspaper, wrote that he “represented the cause of democracy in the largest and the most universal understanding of the word. That cause is our cause, as much as it is that of the United States.” To commemorate the Union’s victory a French artist crafted a statue out of copper sheeting, a figure representing freedom, tall and proud, holding a torch aloft. The Statue of Liberty stands today in New York harbour, the copper now green with age, her gaze fixed across the Atlantic on Europe.

You've just got to love the British:

A list of actual announcements that London Tube train drivers have made to their passengers. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologize for the delay to your service. I know you're all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you'll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction". "Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from E & B syndrome, not knowing his elbow from his backside. I'll let you know any further information as soon as I'm given any." "Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means we probably won't reach our destination." "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay, but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let's take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now....'Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.....'". "We are now traveling through Baker Street, as you can see Baker Street is closed. It would have been nice if they had actually told me, so I could tell you earlier, but no, they don't think about things like that". "Beggars are operating on this train, please do NOT encourage these professional beggars, if you have any spare change, please give it to a registered charity, failing that, give it to me." During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver announced in a West Indian drawl: "step right this way for the sauna, ladies and gentleman. Unfortunately towels are not provided". "Let the passengers off the train FIRST!" (Pause ...) "Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care - I'm going home." "Please allow the doors to close. Try not to confuse this with 'Please hold the doors open'. The two are distinct and separate instructions." "Please note that the beeping noise coming from the doors means that the doors are about to close. It does not mean throw yourself or your bags into the doors." "We can't move off because some idiot has their hand stuck in the door" "To the gentleman wearing the long gray coat trying to get on the second carriage - what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?" "Please move all baggage away from the doors (Pause..) Please move ALL belongings away from the doors. (Pause...) This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train - put the pie down, four-eyes, and move your golf clubs away from the door before I come down there and shove them up your *** sideways"

(JS:  Lost the attribution on this.  Does it matter?)
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