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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Outgoing Assemblyman John Laird lands a job; more.

Laird Won't Waste Talents

At last, an answer to the question that has kept Nu_z awake lo these many nights: What's termed-Assemblyman John Laird going to do now? Yesterday Laird's office released word that the estimable Santa Cruzan won't have to go on the dole; he's been appointed by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to serve on the California Integrated Waste Management Board at $132,178.92 (yep--they're keeping track of those pennies) a year. His job: to help oversee the state's effort to keep as much of its nearly 100 million tons of annual waste out of the landfills as possible. In some ways it's a fitting position, since Laird was serving on the Santa Cruz City Council when the town launched one of the first curbside recycling programs in the state.

Laird spokesman Bill Maxfield says the assemblyman is eager to get started on his new job on Dec. 1, the day after his term ends.

"There are some mundane pieces, like making sure when a landfill is closed that it's done in an environmentally responsible way," he says, "but there are also some really less mundane things, like how to prevent the flow of plastics into the ocean and how to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006," which Laird helped write.

For his first term on the board, Laird replaces Cheryl Peace, who was appointed in June 2007 by then Speaker Fabian Nunez. He'll finish out her term, which was slated to end in January 2010. He'll reportedly have an office in Sacramento and one here in Santa Cruz--just like old times.

Reform Yourself

Let's play a game: Would you rather be a Muslim after 9/11 or a lesbian after Proposition 8? Irshad Manji, a so-called Islamic reformer and journalist, has had the luxury of being both of those things from the comfort of Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal and the percentage population of Muslims is estimated to be something like five times what it is here. That doesn't mean she's gotten fat and complacent. The 40-year-old has dedicated a good deal of her life to speaking out against many aspects of modern-day Islam she believes contradict the Koran and make life miserable for millions of practicing members. And because of that, some people are interested in making her life particularly miserable as well.

"Consider this message, sent to me just last week under the subject line: 'You are a Terrorist!'" Manji wrote recently on her blog. "'Stop terrorizing the Muslim Ummah, you kaffir-loving lesbian whore. ... You probably never were a Muslim, just a brown dyke bitch.'" And that's warm milk compared to the death threats.

Despite the hate that fills her email inbox, the promises of bodily harm and even the pleas of her own mother, Manji travels the world arguing against the inferior position of women in Islam, Jew-bashing and what she describes as an uncritical acceptance of anything supposedly done in the name of Allah. "I appreciate that every faith has its share of literalists," she writes. "Only in Islam today is literalism mainstream. Which means that when abuse happens under the banner of Islam, most Muslims have no clue how to dissent, debate or reform ourselves."

Manji, whose family was forced from Idi Amin's Uganda when she was just a child, considers herself a faithful Muslim, though she does not follow a rigid prayer schedule, nor will she publicize her denomination. She has published the book The Trouble with Islam Today and stars in the PBS documentary Faith Without Fear. She's also become a frequent talking head--a perky, pretty, big-haired one--on networks like CNN and FOX, where she is at times tiptoed around by hosts scared of somehow blundering off into the realm of the un-PC--yet another issue that irks Manji, calling it the "infantilizing" of Muslims in the West.

Manji's message is in many ways meant to be transformative for the next generation of Muslims, which is why she'll be speaking at CSUMB. She has often admitted that while these campus talks are important, they can often be bittersweet. "Invariably young Muslims come up to me afterwards to whisper 'Thank you' in my ear," she said in an interview with Glenn Beck. "And when I ask them, 'Why are you whispering," they say, 'Irshad, you have the luxury of walking away from this campus in two hours and I don't, and I don't want to be stalked for supporting your views.'"

IRSHAD MANJI gives her talk "Confessions of a Muslim Reformer: Why I Fight for Women, Jews, Gays ... and Allah" on Monday, Dec. 1, at 7pm at California State University Monterey Bay, Monterey World Theater, 5260 Sixth Ave., Seaside. Free, but reservations are requested at Directions at

Two Wheels and a Prayer

In California, more than 10,000 bicyclists are injured every year from automobile-related accidents, according to In Santa Cruz there have been three deaths involving bikes and vehicles in the span of 16 months--two of them on Mission Street.

"Something has to be done. I mean, enough is enough," says Piet Canin, Ecology Action's program director of transportation.

A protest ride on Mission Street last week was geared to raise awareness of cyclists on the road. There was also talk of King Street becoming a bike-only zone. Newly elected Councilmember Don Lane was there to show his support for the cause.

Ecology Action spearheaded the bike safety campaign and has come up with some guidelines so that cyclists and drivers can co-exist. The guidelines include:

Don't pass trucks and buses on the right. If bicycling behind a truck, steer clear of the wheels and keep back. Because 90 percent of bike-car crashes occur at intersections, it's key not to pass vehicles that are waiting to turn right at an intersection, even if there is a bike lane. Passing on the right in this case is illegal.

Be wary of a vehicle's blind spot, especially in the case of trucks. Drivers should manage blind spots and set up mirrors properly. If being passed by a truck keep a distance of five to 10 feet. And don't try and squeeze by a truck on either side.

Drivers are encouraged to leave space when passing bicyclists.

If riding a bike, aim to stand out--bright colors work best. Make eye contact. If riding at night, use lights, which are required by law.

Drivers should slow down, especially when there is glare or other visual impairment.

The only time a cyclist should take up a full lane on the road is when riding on a narrow roadway, avoiding doors of vehicles, merging across lanes to make a left turn, passing up another cyclist and avoiding debris.

Bicyclists have a legal right to ride on all roadways, except on certain sections of freeways. But with Mission Street being a major trucking route with fast traffic and no bike lanes, Ecology Action recommends using King, Escalona, California or Seaside streets instead.

Safety precautions pamphlets for fire trucks, buses and other city vehicles have been provided by the city. Ecology Action has also made PSAs, DVDs, pamphlets and radio segments for schools and the community. "We have to work on the infrastructure to make cyclists safer," Canin says.

More information regarding the bike safety campaign can be found at

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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