Eye Candy: Spring Wildflowers

California poppies in foreground, then a sweep of Goldfields on Bernal Heights, taken two days ago.

It’s that time of the year, but this is a particularly spectacular year. Heavy rains until just a couple of weeks ago, and even a sprinkle or two since then. The hills around the city and the surrounding area are brilliantly green, filled with wildflowers to delight even the most jaded observer… and let me tell you, I am NOT jaded about wildflowers! Here’s a bunch taken from Twin Peaks on Feb. 28, Bernal Heights during several different walks in the past two weeks of March, and a spectacular walk we took with a bunch of friends on the west slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin last weekend. It had been at least 20 years since I hiked Steep Ravine trail and it was just as beautiful as ever. But more remarkable was seeing all the blooming Mt. Tam wild orchids all over the place! What a treat!

Mt. Tamalpais wild orchid.

Mt. Tam wild orchid.

The wild orchids are quite small and easy to miss if you're not looking.

The wild orchids are very small and easy to miss if you're not looking.

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Not a Dog Person

Dogs take over a favorite walking path.

(I wrote this piece for Streetsblog, but they turned it down, so I’m putting it here. I hope to resume a more regular blogging life here now that the latest book is at the publisher’s, and the other big project, Ecology Emerges, is starting this coming Thursday. There are a lot of topics rattling around in my head that I plan to address in the coming weeks and months.)

I have some very dear friends in San Francisco and other parts of the world who are serious dog lovers. My landlady’s dogs are her biggest reason to stay alive. I know a lot of people whose dogs are family members, and whose emotional lives are completely wrapped up with their dogs. I don’t want to denigrate those relationships. I appreciate the many dog owners who are responsible, who pick up their dog’s shit, who keep their dogs on leashes or have close voice control.

That said, I am not a fan of dogs in public space. I was bit in the face by one when I was about four years old and for most of my life, I had bad allergies to dogs. I really don’t like encountering dogs wherever I go. I resent it when dog owners bring their pets into public establishments, whether restaurants, food stores, or performing arts venues. I resent it doubly when THEY are resentful that their pets are not welcome in those locations. I resent it triply when they think their pet has equal rights to other HUMANS.

Twelve dogs, a typical sight on this stretch of the Bernal Heights ring road.

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Social Democracy and Transitioning

January 29, 2010, 5 pm, San Francisco City Hall.

I spent three weeks in Scandinavia in late 2009. I’ve been to Denmark several times before (my mother hails from there), so I wasn’t expecting to have any revelations about how different life is there than here. To a great extent, things are quite similar. But there are deep and important differences that I experienced with greater clarity than during any previous visits.

In Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, public transit systems are extremely modern, efficient, frequent and very comfortable, whether inner city subways or intracity train systems. In Sweden we saw no one living on the street and learned that the government was obliged to house each and every Swedish resident, citizen or not. Moreover, if you did not have a job, you qualified for a decent monthly income provided by the state. In Denmark everyone is eligible for practically free higher education, and like Sweden, housing and income are considered social rights. In Norway, a young group of radicals had squatted an abandoned house near the port in Oslo a few years ago, moved out during negotiations with the city government, and eventually reoccupied the building towards the end of their protracted negotiations. The city government finally authorized their presence in the building and set the rent well below market rate in the painfully expensive Norwegian capital. Minimum public-financed income was also the norm there.

How is this all paid for? Taxes! Individuals and corporations pay more than 50% of their income in taxes. But in exchange for these higher taxes, they get free top-notch health care, free university educations, a solid social safety net that includes guaranteed rights to housing and income, and a well-financed and sustainable public transit system.

Americans are notoriously uninformed about the wider political spectrum that exists outside of our borders. In our two-party system, we are regaled with a political spectrum that runs from left (“liberal,” Democrat) to right (“conservative,” Republican) and seems to spend most of its time at the center (“moderate”). But go to Sweden, for example, and you find that none of the dozen or so political parties represented in their national parliament are as far to the right as the liberal Democratic Party of the United States. Our politics has been sliding steadily to the right since Franklin Roosevelt died in 1944, and in spite of much nostalgic enthusiasm for the New Deal, even FDR’s government wasn’t as progressive and lefty as today’s European social democratic regimes.
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