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January 2009

Birminghams Apostrophe Catastrophe

LONDON – On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is now the queens English. England's second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fashioned. But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark. It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apostrophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have frequently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or "Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all. Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe. "I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do." Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy. "Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language. "They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language," said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them." Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those used by emergency services. But Jenny Hodge, a spokeswoman for satellite navigation equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users of their systems navigate through Britain's sometime confusing streets by entering a postal code rather than a street address. She said that if someone preferred to use a street name — with or without an apostrophe — punctuation wouldn't be an issue. By the time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of matching choices would pop up and the user would choose the destination.

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a search for London street St. Mary's Road, the name popped up before the apostrophe had to be entered. There is no national body responsible for regulating place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency services, takes its information from local governments and each one is free to decide how it uses punctuation. "If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a place name, we just update our data," said Ordnance Survey spokesman Paul Beauchamp. "We've never heard of any confusion arising from their existence."

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be a major offense. British grammarians have railed for decades against storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's." In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice," insisting it should be "Two Weeks' Notice."

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe are missing the point, and the pun is very much intended," she wrote.

Project Budburst: Get Involved in Science


Project Budburst is a way to collect important climate change data on the timing of leafing and flowering in your area. Project Budburst is a national field campaign that targets native tree and flower species across the country. It's a great way to gather valuable environmental and climate change information from around the United States. Download the Project Budburst activity guide on BUDBURST

Road Hogs: Keep Your Distance

A friend recently tried to record a road hog/road rage incident unfolding in front of her on southbound Highway 1 downhill into Pacifica, but the video camera on her cell phone malfunctioned and the images were too blurry to identify the bad guys. Without clearly identifiable faces and license plate numbers, she had nothing to give the police. Also, the law says you must not use a cell phone for any purpose while driving. Keep both hands on the wheel and stay safe. If you see something bad going on, avoid trouble yourself and when it is safe to do so, get off the road and write a note or make a call if you can supply full information. Otherwise, it won't help police catch anybody. The general rule is that police have to see the incident happen and then they can take action.

State Lands Commission Nixes Offshore Oil Drill

The State Lands Commission has rejected an oil company proposal to drill offshore from Santa Barbara, the first such project in 40 years since the blowout than fouled Santa Barbara beaches in 1969. Despite a sweetheart deal between some environmental groups and the oil company, state and federal officials opposed the plan for fear it could open the California coast to more oil drilling.

Single-Payer Health Care for All

Dan Underhill attended the single-payer health care meeting at the library recently. He says there is a lot of local interest in the subject. We have posted a number of stories on this in the past, which you can find in our archives by using the Google search box in our upper-right sidebar. Also, please feel free to post your comments on this subject by clicking Comments below this post.

Stimulus Package: Do the Right Thing

The stimulus package passed by Congress this week included a lot of concessions to the Republicans, concessions that represent the worst of the old thinking and that will be less effective as an economic stimulant. The Senate will have an opportunity to correct the errors created in an effort to bring on the Republicans. As Senate Republicans have already stated, they will stand en masse against the bill; there is no longer any motivation whatsoever to weaken the stimulus package. The Senate needs to put infrastructure back into this stimulus plan. We now know it will take $2.2 trillion to fix our country's infrastructure. $819 billion is a great down payment on that huge job.

Join me in writing to our senators and ask your friends to join us. Use what you would like and add your own. To find your senators' email addresses, Google them or look in your daily newspaper or your phone book. The time is now to make this happen. The last election taught us that our voices DO matter and we need to use our voices to give our elected officials the backup they need to do the right thing. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC did an excellent piece on the need for infrastructure in our country. You need to see this to truly understand the opportunity in front of us now. See it here: INFRASTRUCTURE

Here's what I sent to Senator Boxer and Feinstein: Corporate tax breaks and tax cuts do almost nothing to stimulate the economy. PLEASE ADD BACK the infrastructure projects that were stripped from the stimulus package as an olive branch to the Republicans. It is time for Democrats to lead and do what is right rather than play into the lose-lose partisan politics of the past offered by the Republicans. The avalanche of Democratic votes in this last election should embolden Democrats to do the right thing. STOP trying to appease the Republicans. In spite of their "Country First" rhetoric, they are "Party First"—we deserve better. If you do not work on our behalf, you will disenfranchise those of us who donated time and money to elect Democrats in this most historic 2008 election—and Rove's dream of an unending Republican power will come back once again. We can't afford that—and we can't afford to squander this tremendous opportunity of a giant stimulus to actually stimulate the economy. Tax cuts do not do that. Infrastructure projects do stimulate the economy while also building something that is enduring and fixing what is broken.


Opinion: Pacifica's Budget Woes

Are George W. Bush Administration economics alive and well in Pacifica city government? Will we ever see thoughtful Obama-style financial leadership and transparency in this town? For eight long years, Bush didn't plan ahead and looked the other way while the economy and  major businesses all tanked.

We're now faced with a multibillion-dollar federal bailout. In Pacifica, we are again faced with a budget crunch that shows no sign of being fixed. City Council wants to replace a $1 million tax adopted five years ago to specifically support the fire department with a $1.6 million sales tax to be spent as Council sees  fit. Notice the tax request is going up 60 percent.

Five years ago, some people asked Council to come up with an economic plan to stop Pacifica's constant teetering on the edge of budget catastrophe. No economic recovery plan is in place. That's not leadership. The city made ominous noises about closing the Linda Mar fire station if the 2004 tax was not passed. Well, the scare worked, the tax was passed, but the City laid off three firefighters anyway.

Will this sales tax campaign have equivalent scare tactics, or will a reasoned community discussion take place about our economic future and where cost savings can be made in city government? Can we count on Council to sweat the details or will we lose faith yet again as we did with  the firefighter layoffs.

Here are some suggestions that mirror the discipline presented by the Obama administration:
-  Council is  budgeted for $141.600, $28,320 per councilmember. Put the money back. That  amount would pay 1 1/2 firefighters.
- Institute a hiring freeze and pay increase freeze like Yahoo's.
- Disclose and justify all outside  consultants, pension costs, cars driven home by employees, and overtime by position.
- Stop all out-of-town travel.

When was the last time anyone saw a complete quarterly financial report disclosing the city's revenue  and spending? Silicon Valley is the birthplace of real-time financial  reporting, people! Is our environment really our economy, as Council  members like to repeat? Any data available other than hotel room tax that shows we make any money from out-of-town surfers and hikers? This is a town that can't even get around to parking meters at the beach, coin boxes for  the showers, or even a hot dog cart in the parking lot!

We are going to get hit hard by tax requests this year. The state wants a 1.5 cent sales tax hike for three years. Teachers are working on an additional 1 cent sales tax dedicated to education. Sales tax can be expected to be levied on all sorts of services, particularly car repair. DMV costs may go up around  $60 to $80 per car.

Can the city make an honest case for this sales tax  increase when its economic planning has been nonexistent? Here's  one thought that gives Council a window to make a transparent case to  Pacifica voters. Last year's budget took $2.5 million out of reserves to  balance the budget. The reserve currently is $4.6 million. Take $1 million  out to fund the fire department and nothing else for this one year. During  2009, Council is charged with developing a detailed economic recovery plan  for this town.

The challenge to Council should be clear: Make your case  without scare tactics, provide detailed financial reports, show leadership. Do a better job than Bush and watch how Obama rigorously monitors the  recovery plan nationally. Then, and only then, will you earn voter  support.



Credit Crunch: Ice Cream Flavors "Honor" Bush

Ben & Jerry's created the "Yes Pecan!" ice cream flavor for Barack Obama. For George W. Bush, they asked for suggestions from the public. Here are some of their favorite responses:
  - Grape Depression
  - The Housing Crunch
  - Abu Grape
  - Cluster Fudge
  - Nut'n Accomplished
  - Iraqi Road
  - Chock 'n Awe
  - WireTapioca
  - Impeach Cobbler
  - Guantanmallow
  - imPeachmint
  - Heck of a Job, Brownie!
  - Neocon Politan
  - Rocky Road to Fascism
  - The Reese's-cession
  - Cookie D'oh!
  - Nougalar Proliferation
  - Death by Chocolate... and Torture
  - Freedom Vanilla Ice Cream
  - Chocolate Chip On My Shoulder
  - Credit Crunch
  - Mission Pecanplished
  - Country Pumpkin
  - Chunky Monkey in Chief
  - George Bush Doesn't Care About Dark Chocolate
  - WMDelicious
  - Chocolate Chimp
  - Bloody Sundae
  - Caramel Preemptive Stripe
  - I broke the law and am responsible for the deaths of
     thousands...with nuts

(forwarded by Earl Katz)

VICTORY: California Conservation Corps Spared from The Terminator's Budget Axe

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Governor Schwarzenegger has cancelled plans to close the California Conservation Corps (CCC) as a cost-cutting measure. CCC saves the state money. Get the facts on CCC:

CCC is the largest program of its kind in the country. Created in 1978, it's modeled after the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps. It matches up California's young people and its natural resources, benefiting both. Each year it hires 3,300 corpsmembers between the ages of 18 and 25. They earn minimum wage, $8/hour. More than 100,000 young men and women have been a part of CCC since 1976. It is one of California's premier emergency response forces. In 2008, corpsmembers devoted more than a half-million hours to fire response, and also fought floods and pest infestations. CCC has 27 locations throughout California to assist with natural resource work and emergency responses. It is a cost-effective labor force, working for more than 250 local, state and federal agencies each year. Crews tackle more than 900 projects and generate more than $26 million annually for the CCC. It has provided more than 9.3 million hours of emergency response on nearly every major natural disaster since 1976. Crews can be dispatched within hours anywhere in the state. All corpsmembers advance their education in CCC. In the past three years, more than 4,000 corpsmembers worked to complete their high school diplomas. CCC also offers two different scholarships for use after the corps.

All of that sounds good, right? What they do not say is that many corpsmembers are at-risk young adults. CCC keeps them from making that final bad turn that might land them in jail. CCC not only provides them with jobs and education, it teaches them citizenship and leadership by example.

On a recent Meet The Press (January 11, 2009), Dr. Poussaint and Bill Cosby talked about the importance of education versus incarceration. Here are some quotes from the show:
Poussaint: "… when they drop out of high school. they've very a 6 out of 10 chance of ending up at some point in prison."
Cosby: "…For instance, in a educate a kid in public school it would cost $8,000 per child... to incarcerate that person is $41,000."
Cosby: "…So if we know that the lack of education leads to a person's chances of committing crimes because they are not skilled at anything in particular, perhaps even illiterate or functionally illiterate, then why not try to educate all of our children, try to educate all of our children? I think we need to do the math on that and put more children in a position who are not doing well …"

Dr. Poussaint and Bill Cosby were talking specifically about African American children, but the comparison can be made to all children. For whatever reasons, the young women and men who join CCC as corpsmembers have not completed their education and they are ill-equipped to compete for jobs. CCC gives them a chance. For many, it is their last chance to make a positive contribution and to get their lives on track.

These "kids" are out there during every single natural disaster in California, working the fire lines, filling sandbags, clearing brush, providing support for the professionals—and all for minimum wage. They learn how to become productive members of our society. In the end, they give back way more than they take.


In Denial: Drought Not "Another Beautiful Day"

I wish the newspapers, TV, and radio weather reports would stop referring to these unseasonably sunny winter days in such bogus terms as "another beautiful day" and "enjoy the pleasant weather." Let's get real. We are in a serious drought and the false cheer is inappropriate, mindless happy-talk. Don't be in denial. Pray for rain. And weatherpeople, please tell it like it is.


Yo Quiero Taco Bell: Aye Chihuahua!

Doggone it, those lovable folks at Taco Bell just lost a $42 million lawsuit brought by two Michigan men who sued for royalties owed them for creating the fast-food chain's Chihuahua mascot. Tom Rinks and Joe Shields of Grand Rapids won the big judgment against Taco Bell for their advertising gimmick that has made millions of dollars for the company since it was introduced in the 90s.

Pedro Point: Gourmet Ghetto

Luna Cakes, a new bakery, announces its "grand open house" on Sunday, February 8 from 1-4 p.m. at 1275 Danmann Avenue in Pedro Point. This scenic Pacifica hillside is already home to Gheeva Chung's Pedro Point Creative culinary arts center and B.Belicious, among other gastronomic startups. Of course, Pedro Point shopping center houses Nona's Kitchen and La Playa Mexican restaurant (and maybe the once and future Fresh & Easy). And don't forget ye olde Firehouse, scene of many a catered affair.

Say NO to Schwarzenegger's Pet Vet Tax Bill

It's no secret that California is in dire need of money, but the governor proposes that pets be considered luxuries and therefore that a 9 percent to 10 percent tax should be levied on services rendered by vets. Most of us can afford such a tax, but others will be pushed beyond their ability to pay, resulting in abandonment of many pets. Please protest this tax by calling Sacramento. The number is for an automated survey at the governor's office. The call is not toll-free but will take less than a minute and will cost very little. Dial: 916-445-2841. The numbers to press in response to the questions are 1, 5, 1, 2 (1 for English, 5 to transfer to veterinary tax proposal, 1 to comment on veterinary tax proposal, and 2 to oppose the tax). Take a moment and take action NOW. Please tell your friends and ask them to do the same.