“Mistakes were made.”

It’s such a common phrase in the political lexicon that Wikipedia devotes an entire entry to it, finding variations on the phrase going back as far as the Grant Administration.

One language maven cleverly calls it “passive-evasive.”

Now, San Diego mayor’s spokesman Darren Pudgil has turned to the phrase to explain how his office managed to withhold 374 internal city emails that should have been made public.

“Regarding the emails: obviously, mistakes were made,” he wrote to us, going on to blame a unnamed staffer and “a serious misunderstanding.”

Mistakes — by politicians, homeowners, banks — got us into the housing crisis. The Obama Administration thinks convincing banks to lower mortgage payments is one way to get us out.

But the loan-modification process is no breeze for local homeowners, and there are no guarantees either: “The task is a slog, characterized by complicated rules, confusing notifications and a whole lot of waiting. About 18 percent of the applications submitted by the San Diego nonprofits working with homeowners are being accepted. Many others are falling into foreclosure. Still more are in limbo.”

Speaking of mistakes, Assemblyman Marty Block may have made a whopper when he promised not to take a salary “when the legislature is late passing a budget.” This is not a state you want to bet against like that.

So is he returning his paychecks now? Nope. Even though the state is sending out IOUs, Block’s chief of staff says the pledge wasn’t triggered by the current stalemate.

Earlier this week, we told the story of the tents that pop up on downtown streets overnight and then disappear by dawn. In a follow-up, the region’s leading advocate for the homeless says the temporary camps aren’t good for transients, but a former caseworker thinks they’re fine.

Either way, they’re a shame.

In letters, a longtime educator says it’s “shameful” to spend $20 million on a charter school downtown when the money could support reading programs.

In fact, redirecting the construction money isn’t possible.

Elsewhere, the U-T has the latest on the squadrons of big, scary and dangerous squid menacing local beaches.

In grim news, the NCT reports that two more people in the county have died of swine flu, bringing the local death toll to seven. Meanwhile, swine flu has hit the county jail system, which is halting visiting hours.

The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919 was many times worse than the current outbreak. But how bad was it here?

I found an online post (you’ll have to scroll down to see it) that reports 4,392 cases of the deadly flu were diagnosed in San Diego in 1918. More than seven percent of those — 332 — died.

The city of San Diego had only 74,361 residents in 1920, fewer than San Marcos today. Now, an outbreak as deadly as the one in 1918 would take at least 5,712 lives in San Diego alone. And maybe more, since the 1918 statistics are incomplete.

It’s impossible to say whether a modern flu outbreak could be a killer like it was 90 years ago. On one hand, our medications are much better. But we probably encounter many more people each day, potentially making it easier for a virus to spread.

For now, the swine flu seems to mostly be killing the especially vulnerable among us, those who are already ill. The Spanish flu didn’t do that: it struck the young and healthy. We still don’t know why.

RANDY DOTINGA

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