In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


1.   California Assembly set to approve bad desert solar project - please write
2.   Controversial issue in McLaren Park to be discussed TONIGHT
3.   Call for artists on waterfront project
4.   Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day with Audubon and CA Academy of Sciences
5.   Good article about Glen Canyon
6.   Become acquainted with wildflowers on El Cerrito Hillside
7.   Poems by Ruth Stone
8.   LTEs, Guardian Weekly:  night sky/Romney
9.   Movie in Berkeley May 11 summarizes state water supply issues
10. Eric Mar, recyclng hero
11.  California buckeye, by Jake Sigg
12.  Population Institute comment on politics
13.  Enemies: A History of the FBI
14.  How to open a good conversation/5 of worst conversational openings
15.  Obituary: Sydney Wignall wanted to discover why Spanish Armada failed...and much more
16.  Where did the word martinet come from?
17.  Notes & Queries

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws. -Charles de Montesquieu, philosopher and writer (1689-1755)


1.  Please help stop a bad desert solar project by stopping a bill in the State Assembly

This Thursday, May 10, the State Assembly will vote on Assembly Bill 1073 that would allow the Calico Solar project to proceed by circumventing the normal environmental review by local and state agencies. The project would impact one of the last if not the last extant population of Penstemon albomarginatus (White-margined beardtongue) in California, as well as acres of desert dry wash plant communities - many of which are rare or unique vegetation types. Additionally, the proposed project site is an important area for desert tortoise. AB 1073 represents a special gift legislative bill crafted specifically for this one project and would potentially provide grounds for other projects to follow its example.

The Calico Solar project (aka, K-Road Solar, Solar 1) is an example of the type of poorly-sited energy project we've been saying SHOULD NOT HAPPEN in California, and the kind of project that the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a desert-wide Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) is trying to avoid. National environmental groups have attempted to stop the Calico project by suing the California Energy Commission but have been unsuccessful. The attached letter (omitted here, JS) provides a summary of the past 3-year effort to relocate this project.

Your Assemblymember should understand:

 - The desire to increase renewable energy generation in California does not require building big projects on environmentally
    sensitive lands, which CANNOT be part of the answer, and
- ask your representative to vote NO on AB 1073.
- You might also encourage your Assembly representative to support future legislation that encourages more rooftop solar
    development in California


2.  Meeting TONIGHT, Wednesday, May 9, 7 PM


A new attempt to install an 18 hole disc golf course in McLaren Park is under way.
San Francisco Disc Golf Club's representative Jeff Bowling recently sent emails to a variety of community groups and park-involved individuals to present the club's plans which he claims to be a response to community input. Save McLaren Park's Coordinating Committee has requested Mr Bowling give us a walking tour of the proposed course.

Mr. Bowling will be presenting his plan to the McLaren Park Collaborative at its monthly meeting this Wednesday, May 9, 7 PM, at the Crocker-Amazon Clubhouse. The SMP Coordinating Committee and representatives from other McLaren Park interest groups will be there to listen and join the discussion. 

    •    Half of this course (the fairways between Brazil St. and Shelley Loop) is recycled from the previous proposal. If implemented, it will, over time, diminish one of the lovelier meadows and woodlands in the park. Much of this area is designated as “Sensitive Species and Important Bird Habitat” by Rec and Park's own Natural Areas Plan.
    •    The “new” part of the proposal, below Persia and Mansell, will overtake an existing picnic area, including several sidewalks now used by a wide variety of park users. This area is also surrounded by important bird and wildlife areas.
    •    The proposed course will also interfere with the increasing pedestrian traffic along the newly installed and inspiring Philosopher's Way Trail and other walking, hiking and biking networks.

We are researching this new proposal and will keep you up to date as things develop. But for now, Please tell us what you think! Help our efforts, ask questions. Have you heard about this proposal? How do you spend time in this part of the park? What do you know about the plants or animals here? Get in touch, please!
Send us an email Or leave a message or a text at Save McLaren Park's voicemail: 650-516-7657


3.  Southern Waterfront Advisory Committee Members and Interested Citizens,

The Port of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art’s Commission are pleased to announce the release of a call for artists  for the Pier 92 Grain Silo public art project.

The following link provides details about the call for proposals and the selection process. We look forward to working with the community and stakeholders on advancing this project.


4.  Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day in May with Golden Gate Audubon and the California Academy of Sciences!

Not just a day, but a full week — from May 7 through May 13th — of fun educational activities, presentations, field trips and live music.

Highlights will include:

Bird-themed games, crafts and puzzles all week in Cal Academy’s Naturalist Center.
Special planetarium show on Thursday May 10 about how birds use the stars to navigate.
Workshop on sketching birds with Jack Laws on Friday May 11th.
Stow Lake birding walk on Saturday May 12 at 10 am and 2 pm.
Spotting scope on roof of Cal academy, staffed by GGAS volunteers, on Saturday May 12, at 11 am and 3 pm.
NightLife program for 20- and 30-year-olds with live music, bird sketching, adult games and more on Thursday May 10.
Science Story Adventures about bird moms and chicks, for ages 4-8 on Sunday May 13.
Chat with a Scientist, featuring Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (Wednesday May 9 at 1:30 pm) and Marie Straussberger, Migratory Bird Chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Saturday May 12).
International Migratory Bird Week is jointly sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Audubon and the San Francisco Planning Department.

For a full schedule, see the California Academy of Sciences web page at, look halfway down the page, and click on the “International Migratory Bird Day” tab.  Most events are free with Academy admission. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park.  (415) 379-8000.


5.  There have been several good articles about Glen Canyon on the Glen Park Association's website.  Here's the most recent.

Friends of Five Creeks
New slide show on El Cerrito Hillside Natural Area wildflowers!

Wildflowers like Ithuriel's spear are in bloom at the El Cerrito Hillside Natural Area. See some of them at our brand-new, still-developing slide show, and take a walk to enjoy them using our map!

Thanks to volunteers, our plant list from this amazing botanic treasure now includes over 100 native species! A count of the rare Oakland star tulips (Calochortus umbellatus) estimated well over 800 plants!

At our April 21 Earth Day broom bash, more than 20 volunteers took a big bite out of these fire-prone invasives.  Check our website for more on this project, and our events calendar for upcoming work parties and events -- including our July 2 sunset-moonrise walk, co-sponsored with El Cerrito Trail Trekkers.


7.  Poems by Ruth Stone

In the Next Galaxy

In the Next Galaxy
Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

So What

For me the great truths are laced with hysteria.
How many Einsteins can we tolerate?
I leap into the uncertainty principle.
After so many smears, you want to wash it off with a laugh.
Ha ha, you say. So what if it's a meltdown?
Last lines to poems I will write immediately.


Wallace Stevens says,
"A poet looks at the world
as a man looks at a woman."

I can never know what a man sees
when he looks at a woman.

That is a sealed universe.

On the outside of the bubble
everything is stretched to infinity.

Along the blacktop, trees are bearded as old men,
like rows of nodding gray-bearded mandarins.
Their secondhand beards were spun by female gypsy moths.

All mandarins are trapped in their images.

A poet looks at the world
as a woman looks at a man.

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone. -Thomas Hardy


8.  LTEs, Guardian Weekly

We are the poorer for it

As Ros Wynne-Jones describes, it is indeed a great tragedy that we are losing our view of the night sky, and that children lose the most (Stellar magic is vanishing, 20 April).  But the tragedy is greater than that: city dwellers don't even know that they are missing something.  Imagine listening rather dismissively to a poor, mono recording of a Beethoven symphony and never realising that it is possible to experience a live performance, as fresh and vital as the day it was composed.

And it's not just the night sky. Birdlife, for example, is impoverished now to a degree nobody growing up today would ever imagine possible.  I grew up in 1960s and 70s rural England.  I thought the birdlife was pretty good then.  But my grandfather told my brother (who is a keen birdwatcher) that what we were seeing even then didn't compare to his own childhood in the first decade of the 20th century.

Doug Nichols Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Romney's flip-flopping

I read with interest recent articles touching on Mitt Romney's lack of consistency in adopting certain policy positions.  In particular I was struck by the similarities in that regard between his campaign and that of his father.  In 1968 George Romney was in the race for the Republican nomination.  He reversed his support for the war in Vietnam, justifying the decision due to having been previously "brainwashed".  This caused much derision at the time, including from Eugene McCarthy, who noted "I would have thought a light rinse would have done it."  Romney's ratings subsequently nose-dived.

With his courting of the more egregious elements of the Republican support base, one can only hope history eventually repeats itself for Mitt Romney during this year's presidential election.

Barrie Sargeant Otaki Beach, New Zealand

(JS:  Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion last Saturday:  "Republicans think cutting taxes increases government revenues.  That's sort of like Mayans throwing virgins off cliffs to improve the harvest.")


9.  Mary Keitelman:

hi Jake, comment on item #7 below -

New movie "Last Call at the Oasis" opens in San Francisco and Berkeley on May 11.
This movie summarizes what's going on with California's dwindling water supply, including some surprises. Well worth watching.


California Buckeye, by Jake Sigg (Written originally about 10-15 years ago, but cited trees still extant today)

The California buckeye (Aesculus californica) is common in the Bay Area but harsh winds, sandy soils, and other factors conspired to prevent very many trees from growing in San Francisco prior to European contact. A Flora of San Francisco, California, published in 1958, states that Archibald Menzies in the 1792 Vancouver Expedition records the buckeye on the "skirts of the Bay and hilly Country behind" in the northeastern part of what is now San Francisco.

The Flora reported only one tree extant in the city in 1958 and it is still thriving at the Caltrain station at 22nd and Pennsylvania Streets. Subsequently we have located a few that could be indigenous occurrences, but are more likely planted:  A sizable one in a backyard at the base of a cliff at the open space at Palou and Phelps Streets, on the shoreline of Mallard Lake in Golden Gate Park and in a front yard at 2694 McAllister Street, corner of Willard.

The trunk of the last-noted one exceeds two feet in diameter just above its swollen base. Knobby excrescences and fused branches invite visual inspection--a study in sculpture--one fusing branch producing a ten-inch-diameter doughnut hole. Some of the limbs are larger than the trunks of most trees you will encounter. An impressively large California bay laurel keeps it close company. 

But you should see the trees soon-they are growing in front of an old empty cottage with an unkempt yard (as is the cottage next door) and they both have "condo" written all over them. It would be nice if the landowner were enlightened enough to save them but the world isn't like that, is it?  (Didn't happened--they are still there.)

Are these cited trees indigenous occurrences? Estimating the age of a buckeye is not easy. Buckeyes have a moderate growth rate even when growing in fairly dry surroundings. When water is available growth can be rapid, so that a large tree is not necessarily very old. Buckeyes share with olives the ability to look ancient after only a few decades. In the case of the McAllister tree, reasoning tells you that it is not likely that a buckeye grew atop windswept sand dunes. Lack of water and leaves sensitive to wind would prohibit that. More likely the buckeye and the bay were planted by the owner after the cottage was built. The Mallard Lake tree could be indigenous because it is growing in a depression, out of the wind and where the water table was probably high enough. However, abundant water is provided by the lake and it could have been planted within the last five or six decades.

Buckeyes are easy to grow and if you have space in your yard (they will eventually want to spread thirty feet or more) you might want to plant a seed in your yard.  I recommend seed rather than a plant because a buckeye grows quickly from seed, it will have a better-formed root system, and it will grow faster than if you had started from a plant in a can.  (Seed is easily obtainable in the autumn.  Just ask me.)


12.  Population Institute

It would not be surprising if the UN is touchy about its approach to population questions. For two decades, population concerns have been pushed to one side as governments have become increasingly sensitive about the issue.

There are several reasons – fear on the part of rich countries of being seen to attempt to control the fertility of developing nations; an emphasis on other problems, such as diseases, that seemed less intractable; and religion, which took population firmly off the international aid agenda for the whole of George W Bush's US presidency.

Even usually outspoken green groups have censored themselves on the subject, avoiding the question of whether the number of people on the planet has an impact on our ecology in favour of pointing out that the west consumes a far larger share of available resources than the south.

(JS:  I understand the reluctance of organizations to raise their heads above the trenches.  For these organizations there is nothing worse than being thought of as elitist or, gasp, racist.  The result is that the world's #1 problem, and the base of most of our other problems, is met with silence.)


13.  Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner

Despite recently declassified materials, historians of the FBI remain painfully hostage to the fragmentary records that survived "the routine destruction of FBI files" typifying J Edgar Hoover's 48-year, secrecy-obsessed directorship and especially "the bonfire of his personal files after his death" in 1972. Because deliberate cover-ups naturally excite scurrilous conjectures, suspicious students of the bureau have reacted to Hoover's well-oiled system for the undetectable destruction of government archives by mimicking his tendency to assume the worst, often on the basis of hearsay evidence, about the target of an investigation.

Author of a celebrated account of serial blundering and incompetence at the CIA, Tim Weiner is commendably impervious to this familiar temptation, refusing to replicate Hoover's paranoid style. Although Hoover unscrupulously exploited stories of homosexuality to discredit or silence political adversaries, Weiner begins his latest book, based in part on the freshly declassified documents, by dismissing the racy gossip that Hoover himself was "a tyrant in a tutu". And although one of Hoover's chief deputies testified to his boss's smouldering bigotry ("He hated liberalism, he hated blacks, he hated Jews – he had this great long list of hates"), Weiner is more lenient in his own assessment, assuring us that Hoover "was not a monster" and concluding, in an effort at balance, that the man's "knowledge was enormous, though his mind was narrow".  Leaving Hoover's alleged personality disorders to Hollywood scriptwriters...

...Another of Weiner's arresting themes is the way the bureau frequently overemphasised lesser threats and underemphasised greater ones. In the immediate postwar period, the diversion of scarce resources to red-hunting meant the neglect of organised crime. In the late 60s and early 70s, similarly, the "bureau's increasingly relentless focus on American political protests" and "political warfare against the American left" drained "time and energy away from foreign counterintelligence" and counterespionage. A similarly one-sided fixation has emerged in the decade after 9/11. In response to political pressure, the FBI now routinely resorts to what seems like solicitation and entrapment to compensate for an awkward deficit of homegrown Islamic terrorists: "More than half of the major cases the FBI brought against accused terrorists from 2007 and 2009 were stings." The implication, once again, is that the bureau's irrational focus on relatively marginal threats has significant costs, diverting investigative attention from much more serious perils to the country's and the world's wellbeing. For instance: "The FBI's relentless focus on fighting terrorism had an unforeseen consequence. The investigation and prosecution of white-collar crime plummeted, a boon to the Wall Street plunderings that helped create the greatest economic crisis in America since the 1930s."

The subsection that Weiner devotes to former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan also upends the facile supposition that security is invariably compromised when intelligence agents follow procedures. While Soufan quickly extracted actionable intelligence from captured al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah using well-tested methods of studying the subject's background and building a personal rapport, inexperienced CIA interrogators, who excruciatingly water-boarded Zubaydah 83 times over an extended period, only motivated their helpless captive to fabricate tactically useless lies to stop the pain.

Readers of a comprehensive history such as Weiner's come away with an indelible impression that the FBI chronically misjudges and capriciously ranks the dangers facing the country. For instance, even when "the Communist party was no longer a significant force in American political life … Hoover had to continue to represent the party as a mortal threat". Such misuse of scarce resources cannot be explained by too much liberty but only by the tunnel vision of a specialised bureaucracy that needs to justify its existence to the Appropriations Committee. Hoover was convinced that the American civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements were orchestrated from Moscow, but he consistently overestimated the danger posed to America by "the American communist underground" because only a fifth column under the control of "the international communist conspiracy" would fall squarely under the domestic jurisdiction of the FBI. Operating without reality checks, or even sanity checks, secretive intelligence agencies are unlikely to provide a rational assessment and prioritisation of the many real but not equally urgent threats to national security.

In 1943, Attorney General Francis Biddle ordered Hoover to destroy the bureau's list of American citizens who, although they had committed no crime, were deemed dangerous and worthy of military detention. (Hoover defied the order, quietly renaming and better concealing the list.) What disturbed Biddle was the impossibility of effectively challenging a conclusion reached within a secretive bureaucracy. The attempt to pick out those who were likely at a later date to break the law naturally led to a search for proxy indicators, which boiled down in practice to speech critical of government policy. As a result, during the Vietnam war, "The FBI found it hard to distinguish between the kid with a Molotov cocktail and the kid with a picket sign."

...This common failing is exacerbated when national security is at stake, for the simple reason that insecurity is highly emotional, subjective, variable and easy to manipulate for strategic ends. Elected and unelected officials understand that when fear levels are raised – justifiably or not – an insecure public will tend to support national security policies uncritically and will not, until many years have passed, hold its leaders responsible for misconceived actions, including mendaciously justified wars and the arbitrary snaring of confused young men in undercover stings. That such seemingly incurable ills persist well beyond Hoover's long personal shadow is perhaps the most important lesson of this carefully researched study of occult powers inside the most externally powerful modern democratic state.

Excerpted from review in The Economist

Following up on last newsletter's 'Now everyone is connected, is this the death of conversation'...

(From Everyone's connected…)

With that in mind, my editor has asked me to offer up a few practical suggestions and conversational cautions.

How to open a good conversation:

1) Immediately show an interest in the other person.

2) Try to extract an opinion of some sort, and reasons for it. Never disagree with it openly, but try to construct a dialogue based on it.

3) Never ask intimate questions, unless invited to do so.

4) Always be the one to change the subject if the going gets rough.

5) Try to leave the conversation in good repair should it be interrupted.

Five of the worst conversational openings:

1) You must be very busy these days.

2) Do you live round here?

3) Do you have any children?

4) Will it never stop raining?

5) Gosh, this party is boring.

Sydney Wignall, explorer, spy and marine archaeologist, died on April 6th, aged 89

May 5th 2012 | from The Economist

FEW things annoyed Sydney Wignall more than the thought that the world’s least accessible places were divided up among the great powers. To go where he wanted among the wilds and snows—to cross that pass undetected, to find lakes unmarked on charts, to see what lay on the other side of the hill—was a fever in him. He longed “to make indelible marks on history, or preferably on the blank areas of maps”. Among the various motives that led him to launch the first Welsh Himalayan Expedition, trundling out of Llandudno in 1955 in two Standard Vanguard estate cars painted brightly in the national colours, was the urge to thumb his nose at China and its pretensions to govern large areas of those mountains. The flags he intended to plant on Gurla Mandhata, 25,300 feet high and straddling unmapped Nepal and Tibet, included not only the red dragon of Wales and the blue pennant of the UN, but the skull and crossbones, in honour of swashbuckling and privateering. He also took a loaded pistol.

He had done no Alpine climbing; Snowdonia was the limit of his experience. Nonetheless, in those heady days just after the conquest of Everest, the British thought they could master any mountain with enough pluck and Kendal Mint Cake. And so they might have done, if the Chinese had not insisted they owned the territory. Mr Wignall and his team had no sooner started on the final climb than they were captured by thuggish, quilted soldiers of the PLA and taken off to jail.

They endured two months in freezing mud hovels overrun with rats, subsisting on brick tea, turnips and, on a good day, yak entrails packed so full of chillies that tears ran down their faces. They were also repeatedly interrogated, for the Chinese were convinced they must be working for the CIA. Mr Wignall, as the leader, was hauled in most often, and found that the hardest question to answer was why he was climbing mountains at all. He just liked it, he told them; it was his hobby. He had wanted to climb the Himalayas ever since reading about them as a teenager in Wallasey public library. But why do it, insisted the Chinese, between loud expectorations on the floor, if not to spy?
The question was all the harder because he was, in fact, spying. This had not been part of the plan when he first hatched it, blithely in the bar at Capel Curig. It was not revealed to the expedition’s chief sponsor, the Liverpool Daily Post, nor to his companions, nor to anyone for 25 years afterwards. But he was recruited by General Thimayya of the Indian army to find out what the Chinese were up to in Tibet and, being opposed to everything they were doing there, he was happy to help.

From his prison, or rather from the thunder-hole in the yard, he saw plenty: an endless procession of men, women and yaks carrying building materials and furniture up a hill to a new Chinese barracks. He also heard a guard talking of the new highway that would take the Chinese to within 250 miles of Delhi. All this he noted on what scraps of paper he could find—cigarette packets, chocolate wrappers, Indian toilet paper—and stowed in the air-tube of his inflatable bed. Such information would have alerted the Indians well in advance of the war that broke out with China in 1962, had Jawaharlal Nehru believed it, which he did not.

He might not have done so because Mr Wignall was a comedian: a man who whiled away his time in jail conducting imaginary orchestras with a chopstick and performing music-hall turns. He was also a great fund of stories, many preposterous. Since the Chinese insisted that he was a spy, he told them that Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” contained coded messages; that the Everest team had planted a uranium-powered surveillance device; and that his password, straight out of Welsh rugby, was “Keep passing to the left, boyo.” When the Chinese let him and his companions go, they were dazed with false facts; but not so befuddled that they did not try to kill them by forcing them in winter across the Urai Lekh pass, 19,000 feet up, with little more than sugar and flour to keep them going.

Drake’s coffin

That expedition put Mr Wignall off mountains, but not off adventure or privateering. He had long been fascinated by Francis Drake, who had singed the beard of superpower Spain. He therefore spent the rest of his active days, using his training as a maritime engineer, to pursue the wrecks of the Spanish Armada that had sailed against England in 1588. He found the San Juan off Fair Isle and the Santa Maria de la Rosa, rumoured to have held 50,000 ducats, off Ireland, though he retrieved nothing from them save a bronze cannon and two pewter plates. Later he searched in the Azores for the Revenge, the ship Drake had commanded in 1588, and dived in Panama to see if he could find Drake’s body in its lead coffin. Both eluded him.

People assumed it was only gold or glory he was after. But he also wanted to discover why the Armada had failed. The answer lay in the quantities of unfired shot still in the ships, which was cast so badly that it could not have hit its targets. To reveal the soft underbelly of the Spaniards, who had imagined they ruled the waves, was greatly satisfying to him; as satisfying as to have led by the nose the Chinese, who thought they ruled the mountains.


16.  From Says You

martinet - stickler for details
    After Colonel Jean Martinet, who was insistently complicated and rigid.  He was killed by his own troops--"accidentally".

(JS:  When I was in bootcamp training at U.S. Naval Base in San Diego in 1945 our company of 300 had a martinet for officer.  I loved the discipline and the precision of movement.  [Our company won first prize for precision drilling that year our of a huge number of companies.]  However, I was a minority of one out of 300, and the two platoon commanders organized the entire company to sign a petition to get rid of our company commanding officer.  That sort of thing is just not done in the military--especially not then; things are probably much laxer now--and, even as naive as I was, I knew there would be consequences.  I was the lone holdout, and they put pressure on me to sign.  A combination of buttering me up and flattering me--plus the officer humiliating a Hispanic kid before the whole company for having a dirty teeshirt--persuaded me to sign.  The Naval Base Commanding Officer threatened court martial for all of us.  Looking back now I would have a hard time taking that seriously, but it scared enough at the time to get our notice.)


17.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

Why do Americans say Zee for Z and not Zed? Who started this deviation and why?

Because they couldn't find a single word except buzzed with the sound Zed in it.
James Carroll, Geneva, Switzerland

• Both forms, without the capitalisation and where pronunciation doesn't matter, are useful in Scrabble, as is the American slang za for pizza.
Dennis Roddy, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

• It's probably Shakespeare's fault. When the Pilgrim Fathers read Act Two of King Lear and came upon the line: "Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter!", they assumed it was a dirty word that innocent children should not be taught as part of their alphabet and altered it accordingly.
Joan Dawson, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

• Zee French who gave us zebra.
Lynne Calder, Mendocino, California, US

• I'll be happy to explain, if you'll first explain to me why the British say whinge when they mean whine.   
Ivan Bachur, Warren, Michigan, US

Truth, sanity and sense
What is the Guardian guarding?

As its original prospectus stated, the Guardian guards "the principles of civil and religious liberty" and in addition "advocates political economy and supports, without reference to the party from which they emanate, all serviceable measures". I think it certainly upholds standards of debate and quality of writing.
Ursula Nixon, Bodalla, NSW, Australia

• The answer is surely found in Juvenal's Quis custodiet ipsos custodes or, in the vernacular, who will guard the guardians themselves? If they don't know, how can we?
Henry Gordon-Clark, Melbourne, Australia

• The Guardian is guarding the news that News Limited limits, or simply what Murdoch and his minions can't hack?
Chris Roylance, Paddington, Queensland, Australia

• It used to guard Manchester, although what from we were never told.
Ted Webber, Buderim, Queensland, Australia

• The editor's lunch box.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany

• Guardian Weekly is high-quality journalism allowing global citizen participation, guarding democratic values and open-minded debate.
Martin Bickel, Cardiff, UK

• Truth?
Philip Stigger, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

• Common sense.
Patrick Speed, Bayswater, Western Australia

• My sanity.
Nigel Grinter, Chicago, Illinois, US

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