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August 2009

SPELLBINDER: Goofs, Gaffes, and Guffaws


I highly recommend the Society for the Preservation of the English Language and Literature (SPELL), which publishes a newsletter called SPELLBINDER, a great collection of goofs, gaffes, and guffaws, plus language and usage columns from all over the English-speaking universe. Send items to Jim Wallace: And check it out on the Web at SPELL.


Only One Monster Home Left at Connemara??


After months of languishing in real estate limbo, with the same San Francisco Chronicle headline declaring week after week "Only a few homes homes left at Connemara," the "luxury" mini-development on Lower Milagra Ridge now says that it has only one home left for sale—at a whopping $1,475,000, according to a new story in the Chronicle real estate section. C'mon, folks, what a bargain! Snap it up and put these folks out of their misery. Is this some kind of sign? Does this mean the economic recovery has begun? Get up there and vote with your wallet. Buy this house or else!

Fish & Game Seeks Information on Stolen Radio Receiver Used to Track Olive the Sea Otter


The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) seeks information
on the theft of a radio signal receiver unit near Santa Cruz last week. The receiver, worth approximately $7,000 and about the size of a lunchbox, was stolen from a hill above Sunset State Beach. It was being used to track the location and health of a rehabilitated sea otter. Anyone with information on the theft or whereabouts of the receiver is asked to call 1-888-334-2258. Callers can remain anonymous. For more information about Olive the sea otter, please visit her Facebook page at

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The southern sea otter is a protected species under both state and federal endangered-species laws. Its population has been declining, and only about 2,800 remain off the coast of California. Information collected by radio signal receivers is used by researchers to better understand the health threats that affect sea otters and to help restore their numbers. The stolen device was being used to track information about an otter found at Sunset State Beach in February. The animal, nicknamed “Olive,” was covered in oil from a natural oil seep and underwent six weeks of rehabilitation at DFG’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. She was released back into Monterey Bay in April, and scientists continued to track her whereabouts and health through the receiver. The theft was discovered by an employee during a weekly visit to download data. The receiver looks like a small silver metal box with dials and gauges, and was in a brown case when it was taken. It weighs about four pounds. Because of its specific nature, it cannot be used for commercial or private purposes.

Opinion: Lack of Health Insurance = Seven 9/11s

Seven 9/11s. That's how many Americans die every year for lack of health insurance: the equivalent of seven 9/11s—21,000 American lives. If responding to 9/11 was worth thousands of U.S. soldiers' lives, close to a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, and almost eight years of war, why isn't universal health care worth a fraction of that? Is there a difference between someone who died because of a radical ideology during a terrorist attack or someone who died because of a radical ideology that supports "corporations as people" over "people as people"? Not to me.

The argument about America having the best health care is a funny contradiction. It's like saying a Ferrari is the best car, or a Gulf Stream 5 is the best private jet or a 16,000-square-foot home in Beverly Hills is the best house. These things may all be true, but they cost so much that only a few thousand people can afford them.

Universal health care is too important to leave to elected officials, it seems. It needs to be a national referendum of some kind. It's beyond amoral that the numerical equivalent of seven 9/11s die every year in this country because health care is not universally available or affordable. Please, please understand the numbers. It's not about ideology. It's about the numbers.


Opinion: Fire in the Lake Draws Parallels Between Vietnam and Middle East

The parallels between our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq with our attempt to control Vietnam are numerous. One of the finest examinations of Vietnam, its history, and our involvement there can be found in Frances Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake, published in 1972 during the war. She looks at the statements and ideas that motivated our involvement, at the regimes that played themselves out in Vietnam, such as the Ngo family, the detrimental effect of American supplies and money on a small country and its culture, and the failure and absurdity of not only our troop involvement but our attempt to create a democracy where corruption was the norm.   

The lessons of Vietnam were partly learned by our military leaders, but not well enough to change our basic attitudes toward the Iraqis and the Afghanis: that Middle Easterners are inferior and need to be taught how to run their own countries. We managed to alienate all elements of the Vietnamese community, and we have similarly alienated most of the Middle East by our intrusions into Iraq and Afghanistan, and our threatened invasion of Iran. Our hard-line policies did not work in Vietnam, a much smaller nation than Iraq, have left Iraq in shambles, and have destroyed most of the support we once had in Afghanistan. We have played into the hands of such as the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, and have given them cause to build a vast network of hard-core, Islamic terrorists willing to martyr themselves to destroy Americans.   

The Vietnamese, similarly, were willing to die for their country, though what bound them was a Marxist sense of order rather than a religious hostility. We Americans, led by ignorant leaders who thought that military might alone could cow a small nation, have made mistakes so obvious in the Middle East that even our greatest supporters there have drawn back from us. We are following the same path that we traveled down in Vietnam; what we will have after a great deal of bloodshed is probably much less than if we had stayed out altogether. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not popular in the Middle East, and would fold from their own excesses if we were to retire from the field. We've set up puppet governments in Iraq and Afghanistan just as we set up puppet rulers in Vietnam, and the general population would throw them out immediately, were it not for American military might. As Vietnam became a peaceful nation after tossing the French and Americans out, so Iraq and Afghanistan will find a way to settle down peacefully, once they expel all foreign troops. What we have seen in Vietnam is a model or pattern for all such invasions by great powers into small but proud nations, though it's not the nation state that has endured for thousands of years, but a culture far older than ours here in the United States. Much to our amazement, neither the Vietnamese nor the Iraqis or Afghanis have understood that Western democracy and its shopping culture is superior to their own centuries-old traditions, nor have they become more friendly to so-called democratic values after being bombed and murdered en masse by American troops.   

Fire in the Lake is an important book, and beautifully written. What we can learn from it makes it invaluable for our decisions today. Send a copy to our local president, or his chief of staff, or his wife.   

(Editor's Note: AP reports a record-high 45 American combat deaths in Afghanistan in August 2009,)

"Bored" Pacifican Busted for Phony Bomb Threat to Caltrain; Police Traced Call to His Cell Phone

By Joshua Melvin, San Mateo County Times
REDWOOD CITY — A Pacifica man who called in a bomb threat to Caltrain because he was bored faces up to six months in jail but will avoid state prison time as part of a plea deal, a prosecutor said. Antonio Derivera Santiago, 25, pleaded no contest Thursday to a felony charge of making a false bomb threat and will be sentenced in September, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Santiago was facing up to three years in prison. "The next time he suffers from boredom he might try going to the library and get a book," said Wagstaffe. Prosecutors say Santiago, who lives with his parents, was at home on a Sunday afternoon, hanging out with friends, when he got the idea to call in the bomb threat. The man called a customer service hot line and told a representative that there was a bomb on train 101, and Caltrain officials should "find it," said Wagstaffe. Authorities immediately halted service and began searching trains with police dogs. But the transit police bomb squad turned up nothing. They even checked train 101, which is not in service on Sundays. Investigators began to think it was a prank and turned their attention to the caller, tracing the call to Santiago's cell phone. Police eventually got a search warrant and seized the young man's phone. He later told authorities that he had made they call because he was bored. Santiago is still in custody in lieu of $10,000 bail. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Broadcast Blues: Strike a Blow for Media Reform


Toxic fumes filled the night sky over Minot, North Dakota. People were choking to death. Four miles away, seven Canadian Pacific train cars had derailed, spewing poisonous anhydrous ammonia into the air. Emergency personnel scrambled to alert residents to the deadly threat. But the local radio station tasked with providing emergency information played only prerecorded music for more than 90 minutes. As Minot resident Jennifer Johnson told the local newspaper, "The phone line was out, so I couldn't call 911. The only thing on the radio was music. No one was telling us what happened or what to do."

Media consolidation rules had permitted Clear Channel to own six of Minot's seven commercial radio stations. All six were programmed from 1,200 miles away. Media policy might be a yawn-inducing term that sounds like it belongs on page 4 of the newspaper business section. But media policy is killing us. Literally. And it's killing our democracy. Some 41 percent of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. In this film, journalists Helen Thomas, Amy Goodman, and David Brancaccio explain public access, political deception, and the drumbeat to war.

But the public airwaves are public property. That's why people from all across the political spectrum are standing up to take our media back. In this documentary, Danny Glover, Naomi Judd, Phil Donahue, Big and Rich, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan, Republican Senator Trent Lott, and others show us why media reform is the most important issue of our time. Broadcast Blues is the rallying cry for action!

(Thanks to PCT general manager Martin Anaya for his notes on the film and media reform. Contact him at 650-355-8001 or visit  PCT CHANNEL 26 or email The station recently screened the film at Owen Hall as a fundraiser, and filmmaker Sue Wilson was on hand to answer questions.)


Tombstones: When 2 Heads Aren't Better Than 1

"Tombstones" is an old newspaper layout term for headlines that run together. I got a heavy dose of head bump the other day when reading the daily rag. All the bad news just sort of ran together in my mind: The last great member of the Kennedy dynasty dies. Cal Fire chief arrested for drunk driving. Nerdy kid who's mad at a former teacher over bad grades returns to the school in combat dress carrying a chainsaw in a violin case, a sword, and 10 pipe bombs, two of which he detonates before being tackled by teachers. Passenger on Southwest Airlines fondles woman sitting next to him, then when she objects, he punches her, exposes himself, and strips naked while the flight crew struggles to restrain him until the plane can land and get police assistance. Former Santa Rosa cop arrested for four armored-car robberies. San Francisco health department finds some of its inspectors are not legal, causing several restaurants to lose their food safety licenses. Chinese steel company delivers defective parts to the new Bay Bridge project. Oil companies sabotage their own climate change "partnership" by hiring mercenaries to disrupt hearings on global warming legislation.

It's enough to make you not want to get out of bed in the morning.


Term Limits for Pacifica City Council?


In the August 26 Pacifica Tribune, a story buried on page 2 referred to a legal advertisement of potentially great local significance: "Notice is hereby given...of...intention to circulate the petition within the City of Pacifica for the purpose of amending the Pacifica Municipal Code in order to limit the number of terms which an individual may serve as Pacifica City Councilmember."

Part of the language in this petition is as follows: "Term limits are good enough for the President of the United States, for Governors, for (CA) Assembly Members and Senators. ... Term Limits increase competition, encouraging new challengers with new ideas. By contrast, unlimited terms promulgate a seniority system—a haven where mediocre politicians thrive."

The particular limits of running for election to the Pacifica council proposed in the measure are: " person who has served  two terms of office as a Pacifica City Councilmember shall be eligible to run for election as a Pacifica City Councilmember. If for any reason a person serves a partial term as a Pacifica City Councilmember in excess of two years, that partial term shall be considered a full term for purposes of this term limit provision." The measure goes on to state that any previous terms served would not count toward the limit. Only those after the effective date of the measure would count.

The signatories to the proposed measure are Bernie Sifry, a veteran attendee at council meetings, and Deborah Nagle-Burks, a former member of the West Sharp Park community planning group that ended in controversy.

The potential of this measure becoming a referendum on the performance of the council in recent years is possible, given the recent crushing defeat of the proposed sales tax increase. Pacifica council members enjoy one of the best salary and benefit packages in San Mateo County, despite the recent self-denial of increased benefits that were to take effect this year. Council members take home $700 per month and are allowed $920 per month in health benefits that, if not used for insurance, can be paid to the council member as tax-free cash. It is unknown whether council members have taken advantage of this option.

The measure, if it qualifies with enough signatures, will appear on the November ballot.

Senator Ted Kennedy: "Proud to Be a Liberal"

Senator Ted Kennedy died late Tuesday at the age of 77 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. "Edward M. Kennedy -- the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply -- died Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port," said a family statement given out early Wednesday East Coast time. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice."

"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy. For nearly five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including me. In the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer. He battled passionately on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintained warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. I personally valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've benefited as President from his encouragement and wisdom. His fight gave us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye. The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. For America, he was a defender of a dream. For his family, he was a guardian. Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family. Today, our country mourns. We say goodbye to a friend and a true leader who challenged us all to live out our noblest values. And we give thanks for his memory, which inspires us still." (President Barack Obama)

"I was heartbroken to hear of Senator Ted Kennedy's passing and my deepest sympathies go out to Vicki, his children and the entire Kennedy family. I will always think of Senator Kennedy as the lion of the Senate. From his seat in the back of the beautiful Senate chamber, he used his powerful voice to speak out for the voiceless. He could always be counted on to champion justice, fairness and compassion — and to challenge all of us to do the same. Personally, I will miss Senator Kennedy's warm and engaging presence, his bellowing laughter and the way he reached out to all senators in friendship. No one will ever be able to fill his shoes, but we must honor his extraordinary legacy by continuing his life's work. The most fitting tribute we could give Senator Kennedy is to carry on his fight for a quality education for all our children, affordable health care that families can rely on, an economy that works for everyone and equal rights for all our citizens." (U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer)

California Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) today issued the following statement regarding the death of United States Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts): “Like many Americans who share his principles and as someone who benefited from his efforts, I feel a deep personal sadness at the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. We have lost one of our greatest champions for universal healthcare, civil rights and education. We have lost a fierce warrior and an iconic voice for immigrants, women, the disabled and working families. He was the moral standard for generations of lawmakers, and his influence went far beyond Massachusetts, the halls of Congress, and even the borders of our nation. For decades, Ted Kennedy, like his brothers, ‘saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.’ It will take all of us to carry forward the torch that Senator Kennedy so proudly and courageously held for so many years. As we continue the work, the cause, the hope and the dream, his legacy lives forever. My thoughts go out to the Kennedy family and to all Americans on our common loss.”

Obama: Support Your Local Farmers Markets

President Obama says that he and the First Lady are looking into setting up a farmers market just outside the White House, which might sell food from the White House garden or from local farmers. The president said it could give the city of Washington, D.C., “more access to good, fresh food, but it also is this enormous potential revenue-maker for local farmers in the area.” Obama mentioned the idea while answering a citizen question at a health care forum.

Azure Armstrong Crowned New Miss Pacifica Local

It was fun and far out for all who attended the crowning of Azure Armstrong as the new Miss Pacifica Local 2009 at the Community Center  on August 22. Azure, a nursing student at City College of San Francisco, won the competition against finalist Crystal Pilotte, a recent Terra Nova High School graduate. The competition is a local event with no connection to either the Miss California or Miss America pageants. It recognizes local young women who work to improve the community and participate with city officials at various community events.

The audience was treated to a Sixties dance version of the "The Beat Goes On" by the show's producer Rita Wolper, with the assistance of two previous Miss Pacifica Locals. Wolper, a former Terra Nova High School graduate, who has produced the pageant for the past four years, along with her daughter Sterling Wolper, Miss Pacifica Local 2006, and last year's winner Tricia Callero, delighted the audience with their rendition of the famous 1967 Sonny and Cher number. The Celtic Sounds accompanied Tricia in singing "The Voice" and "Penelope's Song."

Also performing was the all-boy band Cheeze It Failure, with a zest reminiscent of what the young Beatles must have been like at that tender age. Brad Bollinger, Rita Wolper, and Sterling Wolper did a Sixties-style "Laugh In" skit. The Wolpers also performed as the Mystic Rose belly dancers. But one performance that really got folks rockin' and rollin' was the rollicking, finger-snapping, toe-tapping, heart-pounding performance of Pacifica's local band The Finger Puppets.

The Miss Pacifica Local Pageant was produced by A Local Girl Production. Event sponsors were Pacifica Thai, Coastside Critters, Rainbow Rose Creations, Chit Chat Cafe, and the bands. Judges were City Council member Mary Ann Nihart,  Barbara Arietta of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (CAC), and Chris Ranken of the San Mateo County Planning Commission.

(Thanks to Riptide correspondent Barbara Arietta for her notes on the performances.)


Dear Jackie: Save Public Option in Health Care


“More than 12,000 people joined in on our telephone town hall on Tuesday and I am not surprised. Americans  have been clamoring for real health care reform for a generation and -- now  that we’re close to achieving it -- emotions on all sides are running  high. Unfortunately, a number of my constituents who tried to call in were blocked because the system was overloaded by people from outside the district -- even outside California -- who were given the number by national websites and bloggers. My constituents, whether they  agree with me or not, have a right to tell me how they feel and to hear why I support health care reform that does away with pre-existing conditions, provides every American access to quality health care and keeps insurance companies honest by providing consumers the choice of getting their insurance from a private company or through a public option. I encourage anyone  living within the 12th Congressional District to attend and for residents of other districts to contact their representative to find out when and where their representative is holding similar meetings.” (Congresswoman Jackie Speier)