Friday, July 22, 2016

Donald Trump is Coming to Town

Sing to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Oh you'd better shut up
You'd better not whine
You need to stand up and fall in line
Donald Trump is coming to town.

He's building a wall
To keep Muslims out
Mexicans too, that's what it's about
Donald Trump is coming to town.

He's planning massive tax cuts
And massive spending, too
Do you think he plans to pay for it
Out of his own bank-a-roo?

He'll make us all great
By making us hate
Those people he shall designate
Donald Trump is coming to town.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Garbage-In-N-Garbage-Out

In recent years it has become a weekend ritual for Mrs. Toy to pick up burgers and fries from Wendy's on her way home from a busy day of church musicianship. This weekend we thought it might be fun to alter the routine and try out the new In-N-Out Burger joint in Seaside, which opened to great fanfare and excitement about three months ago.

While we didn't expect our meal to live up to the hype, we did expect a reasonably good hamburger and fries, and we left open the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. We didn't expect to be too disappointed, much less a little disgusted.

The bag contained two double burgers with cheese and two “containers” of fries. I used quotation marks because the fries were placed in shallow paper trays that didn't really contain them. They just sort of spilled out everywhere. The burgers were half naked with the other half wrapped in a flimsy paper shell. Unlike normal fast-food hamburgers, which come in a clamshell box or completely wrapped in paper or foil that can be opened up and used as sort of a plate, these In-N-Out burgers had no real protection, nothing to keep them warm on the drive home, and required plates from our cupboard.

As I expected, the hamburger was nothing extraordinary. In fact the taste was almost indistinguishable from the Wendy's product, and the ingredients were essentially the same. But it was a good deal messier. Once I had eaten the exposed half there was the problem of how to separate the wrapped half from the tight wrapper. As someone with limited manual dexterity due to chronic pain and muscle stiffness, it was especially challenging.

I decided just to rip the paper off. I almost didn't notice, which means I almost ate, a microscopically thin layer of paper that remained clinging to the bun. It looked and felt like the film that you find between layers of an onion, and it was devilishly hard to remove from my food.

Once the second half of my burger was free, I had a hard time holding it together, and before I could raise it to my mouth it collapsed into a mess on my plate. What remained looked more like a serving of hamburger casserole than a hamburger. I ended up eating the individual components separately.

Meanwhile, I found the fries, which In-N-Out fans rave about, to be almost flavorless. They certainly didn't taste like potatoes, not even an undressed baked potato. Mrs. Toy thought they tasted undercooked, and she called them “inedible.” This word came from a woman who, in the 35 years I have known her, has no more than once or twice turned up her nose at any food put in front of her.

The only thing that saved the meal from total disaster was my chocolate milkshake. It tasted pretty good, though as shakes go it was a little on the thin side. A truly good milkshake takes a little work to suck through a straw. This one was too easy.

To make matters worse, our In-N-Out meal didn't settle in our stomachs very well and now, about 22 hours after the fact, we both still feel a little bit queasy. We're still waiting for the "Out" part of In-N-Out to happen.

So our first In-N-Out burgers were also our last. And we are now completely puzzled as to how an unimpressive, overstuffed hamburger and bland French fries in poorly designed packaging has gained such a cult following. It's not unlike the Donald Trump phenomenon, a lot of hype and no substance seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people making them very giddy over junk.

If you want a truly excellent hamburger, and a great milkshake too, I suggest you skip the chains altogether and pay a visit to our locally owned R.G. Burgers in Carmel and Monterey.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Two simple rules

To Donald Trump protesters: DO NOT engage in any form of violence, threats, or bullying! It only makes you look bad and makes Trump and his supporters look like the victims. Instead, think like Gandhi and Martin Luther King - practice peaceful, nonviolent noncooperation.

To Donald Trump supporters: Because your guy has systematically insulted huge numbers of Americans in order to gain your favor, don't expect to be greeted with tea and cookies.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why Hillary voted for the Iraq war

Let's get something straight. When people (mostly Bernie Sanders supporters) complain that Hillary Clinton "voted for the war in Iraq" they're missing the larger context.

The vote was to "authorize the use of force" against Saddam Hussein if he didn't open up Iraq to UN weapons inspectors and comply with American demands that he destroy any weapons of mass destruction he was believed to possess. The Bush Administration sold it to Congress as a way to use the threat of force to get Saddam to comply. And it worked! The mere threat of force did indeed compel Saddam to readmit the UN weapon inspectors who found absolutely nothing.

It should have stopped there. But Bush didn't accept the inspectors' findings and started the war anyway. I don't know how Hillary reacted, but many members of Congress who voted for the authorization for its threat value felt betrayed by Bush.

Remember, in early 2003 Bush did not yet have the reputation of being a lying weasel, so Congress took Bush at his word that he would use force "only as a last resort."

A lot of good people in Congress were deceived by Bush, not just Hillary. A lot of good Democrats among the public at large were also deceived. Hillary is not responsible for the mess that followed. The blame rests entirely on George W. Bush. Period.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Monterey's cross deserves its day in court

As someone who advocated repairing the wooden cross that was vandalized on Del Monte Beach in 2009, I have mixed feelings about the metal cross that suddenly appeared in its place on Easter weekend. For starters, a metal cross is historically inaccurate. And my sense of law and order dictates that one should not place things on public property without permission. On the other hand, that same sense is still outraged that vandals got away with a crime thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Monterey cross

So I am grateful that the issue is back on the public radar. A little civil disobedience on the part of those who made this metal cross may be a good thing. Since nothing was destroyed, and something new was created, one might call it a constructive form of vandalism.

News reports said that passersby were delighted to see a cross back on the concrete pedestal, indicating that this controversy was never really settled in the public consciousness. For that reason I think it is time for the Monterey city council revisit this issue.

When the original cross was toppled, council members wanted to repair it as quickly as possible. But the ACLU threatened the city with a lawsuit on the grounds that a cross on public property violated the principle of separating church and state. This occurred during the economic crisis when the city was struggling to pay routine expenses, so a costly court fight was out of the question. 

The council agreed to repair the cross only if a legal defense fund of $50,000 could be raised through private donations. Unfortunately, the city made no real effort to solicit donations. There was no way to contribute online, and no use of social media to spread the word. Only checks were accepted by mail, and the address was publicized by the local news media for just a few days. Still, they managed to raise 10% of the goal with this feeble effort before donations petered out. After a couple of months the city gave up, moved the cross to San Carlos Cemetery, and returned the donations. As a result the ACLU's interpretation of the law became public policy by default.

They will deny this of course, but any way you slice it the ACLU took advantage of a crime and the city's weakened financial condition to force Monterey to do things their way. So despite the common belief that this matter was settled, the legal and moral questions surrounding this issue actually remain officially unresolved, still simmering in many people's minds. Hence the mysterious appearance of a homemade cross on the beach and the joyful welcome it received on Easter weekend.

In the absence of a fair and impartial judicial review, we do not know if the old wooden cross was legal or not. True, it had obvious religious connotations, but this particular cross primarily had a secular purpose in replicating a historic artifact that was directly involved in the founding of Monterey. In 1769 the Portola-Crespi expedition itself used the cross for the worldly purpose of signaling their supply ship. Is the law really not flexible enough to accommodate public historical monuments that happen to have religious significance as well as secular historic importance?

Monterey needs to resolve this question once and for all. As I see it we have three options.

1. Do nothing and continue to let the vandals know their crime was successful.

2. Put the wooden cross back up on the beach and not be intimidated if the ACLU challenges it. If a legal defense fund is still needed, make use of social media, crowd funding, and every other available resource to maximize donations. And be patient! It takes time to raise $50,000.

3. Find a way to compromise.

Option number 1 should be unacceptable to anyone who respects due process of law. Option number 2 would settle the issue definitively. But if challenged it would be time consuming and expensive with no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

As far as option number 3 goes, two things have recently come to my attention which may lead to an amicable solution. The first came from a cross opponent (and boy was he cross!) who said we needed more monuments to the local natives. I agreed with him on that point. The second was a letter published in the April 1st Monterey Herald from ACLU attorney Michelle Welsh, the same one who stared down the Monterey city council in 2009.

In her letter she wrote:
"...the city violates both the United States and California Constitutions if it places a solitary religious monument on public property or allows someone else to install a solitary religious monument on city property.” 
The word that stuck out to me was “solitary,” and I seemed to recall that in 2009 she said that a cross might be acceptable if it was part of a larger display.

With those two points in mind, I suggest putting the cross back up and adding life-size statues of local natives decorating the cross as described in Father Juan Crespi's journal. In 1770 Crespi and Portola returned to Monterey and found the cross had been encircled with arrows stuck in the ground, mussel shells were piled at the base, and a string of sardines was hanging from one arm. Recreating that scene would represent the “first contact” moment between cultures and make it clear to observers that the purpose of the monument is to honor a historic event, not to promote religion. 

But if the ACLU shows no willingness to compromise the city should proceed with option number 2. We must have a formal resolution of this issue because we cannot allow vandals and bullying lawyers to unilaterally dictate public policy, as they did so brazenly in 2009.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Project Bella: What's the rush?

Last Wednesday the Pacific Grove city council approved a special election, scheduled for April 19th, asking the townsfolk to change the zoning of the American Tin Cannery site to allow for a new hotel on the property. The hotel, code named “Project Bella,” is being billed as an economic necessity for PG, and a much better use of the site than the existing indoor retail mall that never lived up to expectations. 

Project Bella may indeed be the best thing to happen to Pacific Grove since Holman's, but why is a special election necessary when a regularly scheduled election will come just eight weeks later? The answer is simple. A special election favors the developer. 

Special elections tend to attract fewer voters, those most interested in the subject, so the results may not reflect the town as a whole. Also, it gives voters less time to scrutinize and discuss the project, giving the developers more control over the information presented to voters. It therefore comes as no surprise that the developer, Domaine Hospitality Partners, is perfectly happy to pay the full cost of the election, about $40,000 according to KSBW News. 

So far Domaine has had complete control over the messages to the community, and they've painted an awfully rosy picture of their hotel plan. They boast that Bella “will be designed, built, and furnished to the highest standards shared by only a very few of the world's best hotels,” a tall claim considering even the local competition, much less the world. And, strangely enough, they expect to fulfill their promise of unparalleled luxury with an architectural design reminiscent of the industrial history of the cannery building that currently occupies the site. 

Which brings me to my biggest concern. Both the developer and civic leaders who are supporting Project Bella have been pretty vague about the fate of the historic American Tin Cannery building, which turns 89 this year. It was the only Cannery Row cannery built in Pacific Grove, and arguably has the most attractive facade of any cannery on the row. 

After the local sardine industry shriveled the building was occupied by NAFI (National Automotive Fibers. Inc.), a division of Chris-Craft Industries. NAFI (pronounced “naffy”) manufactured carpeting for automobiles in the facility for many years. When I was third-grader at Carmel River School, locally made NAFI carpeting was installed in our classrooms. After NAFI went the way of the sardines, the American Tin Cannery entered its retail phase, first as a big box type store called Ardan and later the outlet mall we all know, but rarely patronize. 

I know this little bit of history because my dad was an accountant at NAFI in the 1960s. His office was near the base of the smokestack a few steps from Eardley Avenue. One day he gave me and my mother a tour of the plant. I think it was just after quittin' time because there were very few people there. I remember the cavernous space with north-facing windows built into the angled roof which provided a source of light. On the floor I saw rows and rows of industrial strength sewing machines, the kind you see today only in documentaries about Chinese textile mills. It made a strong impression on my seven year old mind. 

Descriptions of the proposed hotel in the local press have been hazy as to how much, if any, of the existing building would be incorporated into the new. Most reports ambiguously say the hotel will be built “at” the American Tin Cannery. Nowhere have I seen it stated explicitly that the American Tin Cannery will be demolished, but neither has it been said the building will be spared. One recent report suggested that the hotel will be an “homage” to the cannery. An artists rendering of the interior displayed on the developer's website shows features that look similar to the existing structure, but the aerial site plan shows the hotel with a very different footprint, most of it set well back from the street. Curiously missing from the website are any street-views of Project Bella. 

Put it all together and it becomes evident that the American Tin Cannery will be no more. Yet for some reason PG preservationists don't seem to have picked up the signals yet. If the demolition of an old pump house could attract their attention, the destruction of the American Tin Cannery should raise alarms like mad, yet they haven't said a word. 

Do Pacific Grove voters really know what they'll be getting on that property? I suspect Project Bella supporters don't want Pagrovians to know too much just yet. It appears they want to lure voters to the special election with glowing promises of economic benefits and unsurpassed luxury before the townsfolk realize they must sacrifice a unique piece of the town's heritage – hence the need to conduct the vote two months before the scheduled June 7th election.


The Rugged Shore of Pacific Grove

Friday, December 4, 2015

Have technocrats taken over Carmel city hall?

What's up with Carmel these days? The city council has engaged in some very un-Carmelish behavior of late. 

About this time last year the council began a six-month experiment with parking meters, devices long considered to be the ultimate insult to the dignity of the village. The council hoped to demonstrate that meters would solve a long-standing problem of too many cars and not enough parking spaces. 

Parking “kiosks” (single meters designed to serve an entire block) were installed up and down Ocean Avenue to see what would happen. As I expected, locals avoided them by parking on every other street where parking was still free, while tourists, who didn't know any better, paid up. But city officials didn't interpret the results that way. They saw that Ocean Avenue parking spaces opened up more often and, based on that criteria alone, they declared the experiment a success. When almost nobody else agreed with that two-dimensional analysis, the city removed the meters. End of story. 

This week the city council ventured down a similarly dubious path. By a slim 3-2 majority they approved the first reading of a controversial ordinance to declare beach fires a “public nuisance,” which would bring an abrupt end to a century-old social tradition. With a single vote on a simple subject, the council has set a course destined to leave a lot of their constituents very upset. Unless at least one of the three shows a willingness to compromise, the ship called City Hall is going to run aground on Carmel Beach as early as next month. 

Beach fires have become a bit of a problem mainly due to their increasing numbers. Carmel is one of the few places left on the California coast where your family and friends can still gather around a fire to toast hot dogs and marshmallows on a foggy summer evening. For that reason people flock to Carmel beach to enjoy this simple social ritual that humans have engaged in since caveman times. Lots of people mean lots of fires. Lots of fires mean lots of smoke and lots of black ashes discoloring Carmel's famous white sand. Too much of a good thing has gotten very messy. 

Earlier this year the city had a plan to manage fires by placing 26 fire rings along the beach between 10th and 13th Avenues. The rings would contain the filthy ashes, and the number of fires allowed at any one time would be limited. Still, I thought 26 was too many. After all we're still talking about eight to nine fires per block. In years past a busy night might see maybe a dozen fires, so 26 seemed overly generous. Unfortunately, some folks took the opposite view and decided 26 was too restrictive. They appealed the plan to the California Coastal Commission hoping to get a better deal. The CCC will consider the appeal next week. 

Meanwhile, the city council grew concerned that the smoke from so many fires might get the city in trouble with state and regional air quality bureaucrats. Last summer an air quality monitor placed at a nearby residence detected unhealthy levels of smoke on just two nights, once in June and again on the 4th of July. Apparently something in that smoke made city officials go batshit crazy and they abruptly changed course. 

The city passed a temporary emergency ordinance banning fires on weekends until proper studies could be done to find the best solution. But the Coastal Commission didn't think two nights of bad air over three months was sufficient justification to declare an emergency. They told the city not to enforce the ban. Miffed city officials essentially said “screw you” to the Coastal Commission and escalated the conflict beyond reason. They decided they could make an end run around the Coastal Commission ruling by declaring beach fires a “public nuisance.” With mayor Jason Burnett leading the charge, they drafted the ordinance to permanently ban all fires. This may have satisfied their egos, but it has ignited the anger of beachgoers. 

It's troubling enough to see the city council so willing to dismantle an important component of Carmel's unique social culture. Even more disturbing is how they are doing it, effectively bypassing the normal avenues of forming public policy. The proper course, which the city was following until recently, is to gather public input, study various alternatives, find ways to mitigate potential problems, and develop a plan. It's a somewhat tedious process, but it usually works out for most of us. The 26 fire ring proposal grew out of that process. Now, it has all been chucked out the window and a total ban is being imposed on the community with minimal debate. In fact mayor Burnett has made it clear he is not open to alternatives. In Wednesday's Herald he was quoted “For me it comes down to the health impact of the smoke, for me, it’s an area where I can’t compromise.” 

Yet the smoke reached unhealthy levels on only two evenings. Two. In fact, the proposed ordinance doesn't cite fires as the problem per se, only the “excessive number of beach fires during peak use periods” such as Independence Day festivities. The key to a fair and reasonable solution, then, is not a complete ban but a limit on the number of fires allowed at any given time. 

I think limiting fires to about 10 or 12 fire rings is a fair number, especially if they must be confined to the three block segment of the beach where fires are currently allowed. Some experimentation with their placement might further reduce smoke drift into the surrounding neighborhood. These steps should limit smoke to historical levels, which folks seemed comfortable with in the past. The rings would confine coals and ashes to keep the beach clean and safe. To keep things simple, fire rings would be available on a first-come first-served basis, much as with picnic tables in parks. though a reservation system might be helpful for busy holiday weekends. I think this is a reasonable compromise, and should be satisfactory to almost everyone. 

The question is whether Carmelites can convince at least one more council member that compromise is reasonable. I fear the mayor is a lost cause. That leaves Victoria Beach and Ken Talmage, but they're coming across as more fearful of what the air quality bureaucrats might do than they are of the townsfolk they supposedly represent. As with the parking meter program, the council majority seems primarily interested in the technical aspects of the issue while disregarding the social and cultural implications of their actions. In a tightly knit community like Carmel, with deep-rooted social traditions, that is a huge political mistake.


Carmel Beach Bonfires