Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's garbage, man!

I walked outside a little while ago to place some additional garbage into our cans at the curb. I discovered that some delinquent individuals had dumped two of our neighbors' garbage cans into the street. I don't know why ours were not dumped, too, but I'm grateful for small favors.

I didn't want the neighbors to discover the mess as they were rushing off to work in the morning, so I went out with some gloves and proceeded to put the garbage back in the cans. Interestingly, the offenders only dumped the recycling cans and not the ones containing garbage. Perhaps someone was looking for aluminum cans to cash in, but usually such people are more discreet.

One thing I learned about our two neighbors, neither of them have a clue about what is recyclable and what isn't.

What is:
  • Tin cans
  • Aluminum cans
  • Glass bottles and containers
  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • Paper including magazines
  • Cardboard
What isn't:
  • Plastic bags
  • Used Q-Tips
  • Video tapes
So in addition to helping my neighbors, I helped the garbage company by properly sorting their recyclables.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let the Herald do its job

On December 13th the Monterey Herald ran two contrasting stories. One was about a local family facing hard times and living in a motel. The other was about a lady in Southern California who spent $20,000 to build a mini Victorian mansion in her back yard for her doggies Chelsea and Coco Puff.

The clear lines between need and excess prompted four local women to write letters to the Herald expressing their justified dismay about the dog house. All well and good, so far.

However, two of these women went as far as to say that the Herald shouldn't have even printed the dog house story. One called the article a "slap in the face" to local residents and asked "Did you have a purpose in printing the article or did you just not think?" The other was even more direct and simply said the article shouldn't have been printed in the Herald.

Why not? Is it the job of the Herald to only print politically correct stories? Or is it the paper's job to tell people what is going on in the world?

By printing the dog house story, the Herald was not advocating excess. The paper was doing what it is supposed to do - show us the world as it is. Sometimes it tells stories that are heartbreaking, some are heartwarming, and some are just plain crazy.

If the Herald had not run the story, how would anyone know that $20,000 is going to the dogs? If you don't know about excessive lifestyles, how can they be denounced?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No more Love

Less than half a day after I wrote my last entry, praising our Chevrolet Impala, our local dealership, Love Chevrolet, shut down. I am both sad and angry.

From what I've gathered from news reports, it wasn't so much a lack of willing buyers as the inability for buyers to obtain credit from financial institutions. Those same financial institutions were given billions in bailout money which was supposed to allow them to keep making loans. Your tax dollars are not at work.

I guess I won't get to test drive an HHR anytime soon.

This comes on top of losing our Volkswagen and Dodge dealers when the Wester family retired last year. Who will be next?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Speaking of Cars

Whatever you may think about the competency of US automobile executives, please don't tell me their companies are failing because they're putting out bad products.

My favorite cars of the last 20 years have all been GM products. Right now I drive a 20 year old Buick. While it is showing inevitable signs of wear and tear, it still gets me where I want to go just fine.

Five years ago we bought Mrs. Toy a 2003 Chevy Impala. It is the best car we've ever owned. Prior to that she had a 1995 Mazda 626. The Mazda's transmission failed and had to be replaced before it got to 30,000 miles (still under warranty, thank goodness). We wanted to avoid the next failure and decided to trade it in before it reached 60,000, and thus the Impala came into our lives.

The 6-cylinder Impala is roomier, more comfortable, bigger, safer, and more powerful than the 4-cylinder Mazda. But best of all, the Impala actually gets better gas mileage than the Mazda. Our Impala gets 32 MPG on the highway, and on two road trips we've gotten as much as 33 MPG, which is actually better than the EPA ratings. The Mazda never did better than 29!

GM better not go out of business. I don't want to buy Japanese ever again.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cars & Conservatives

Ya gotta love the thought processes of modern conservatives. It wasn't long ago when they were saying that Ford, GM and Chrysler were selling big gas hogging SUVs because that's what people wanted. It fit in so neatly with their confidence in market forces to keep the economy humming along. Their beliefs were accompanied by firm opposition to tougher fuel economy standards, saying it would stifle the free market and force people to drive cars they don't want.

Now that the Big Three are failing, largely due to their reliance on SUV sales which went SPLAT on the pavement when gas prices went through the roof, these same conservatives are saying that American automakers were too stupid to realize that people wanted fuel efficient cars.

This obvious contradiction has its own internal logic. It allows conservatives to maintain their ideological purity without admitting to any lapses in logic. This tactic will work as long as they can maintain the illusion that they never supported the sale of gas guzzlers in the first place. Maybe nobody will notice.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Beauty Takes a Beating

There were two (so far) letters to the editor of the Herald this week complaining about the cover photo on Sunday's TV Week insert. What was it they found so offensive?

I'm offended by the ever increasing popularity of violent "reality" programming showing video of actual plane crashes and police chases; crime dramas which depict grisly killings in horrific detail, that sort of thing.

I'm offended by so-called "news" commentators on both the right (Mostly FOX) and the left (mostly MSNBC) who belittle anyone they disagree with by shouting and getting angry on the air. I'm offended by people like Nancy (Dis)Grace (a CNN product) who blows every sensational small-town crime into a national calamity.

I'm offended by programs that turn everything from dating to cooking into spectator sports that humiliate the losers.

But nobody complains about those.

Instead they complain about beauty. Those two letter writers (one of whom is a friend of mine) went out of their way to tell everyone they were offended about seeing a Victoria's Secret model on the cover of TV Week. They said it was degrading.

This is how warped our culture has become. Violence, anger and humiliation are broadcast on almost every channel, but it is a photo of a beautiful woman that prompts outrage.

I find that outrageous.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not Very Bright

I don't worry about media bias, but I see a lot of media stupidity. There was an article in the Monterey Herald of Saturday November 16th which was a perfect example.

The article was about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), and was written by Mary-Liz Shaw of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I have since discovered that the article has appeared in dozens of papers all across the country, spreading misinformation far and wide.

The gist of the rather lengthy article was that people, even those with strong environmentalist tendencies, are shunning CFLs because they make “your living room look like a morgue” among other potential horrors. Elsewhere she described the light of CFLs as “dull,” “harsh,” “ghastly,” and adds that they can “turn even the most environmentally conscious a sickly green.”

Now the Toy household has been using CFLs for fifteen years, in every room of the house, and we have experienced none of these problems. Our living room looks cozy and inviting, our flesh tones are natural, and we're saving piles of money on our PG&E bills.

CFLs do look a little different. There's no doubt about that. Regular incandescent light bulbs tend to emit light that is somewhat orange colored, like a pale candle flame. You don't notice this because your brain compensates and makes colors look natural. But if you take a photo in this light, without flash, it looks very orange.

Most CFLs have either a slightly yellowish or pinkish cast, depending on the manufacturer. This does not mean the light is bad, but it does look a little different at first. It takes a little time for your eye and brain to get used to them. After awhile you won't give them a second thought. In fact, at our house, it's the orange leaning incandescents that look weird to us now.

A few CFLs on the market have a blueish “daylight” color balance, which mimics the light from a blue sky. These are specialty bulbs that should be avoided for most household uses, because they look unnaturally cold for indoor lighting.

I've only found one CFL brand that had unacceptable color. I bought a pack of Sylvania CFLs at Orchard Supply earlier this year. They had a pink cast that was too strong. I exchanged them for the Durabright brand and all was well.

Ms. Shaw didn't explain much of this, and most of what she did say along these lines was buried near the end of her article almost as an afterthought. Before she got there, though, she spouted plenty more B.S. such as this indecipherable line: “Fluorescents cast a diffuse, ambient light with a narrower radial reach than incandescents. This makes them inappropriate for accent lighting....”

I have no idea what “radial reach” means, but a search for a definition yielded only technical documents relating to construction cranes, robot arms, and the ability of artificial vision experiments to distinguish objects from the background. Nothing related to lighting.

Furthermore, her implication that “diffuse, ambient light” is a bad thing shows her shocking lack of understanding of basic English.

“Diffuse” simply means that the light is spread evenly. In household lighting this is a good thing because it prevents harsh shadows. Standard incandescent bulbs do the exact same thing. In this regard CFLs and regular bulbs are indistinguishable. As for the “ambient” part, that just refers to whatever light is in your immediate vicinity. Any light you can see is ambient, whether it comes from a light bulb or the moon!

What I'm trying to say here is that I hope none of my readers, all three of you, saw this mixed-up article and decided you shouldn't use CFLs. If you haven't already, go get a few. Then a few more. Put them in your most frequently used lights first. Then put them everywhere you can. When your PG&E bill comes, compare this year's kilowatt hours to last years usage (it's right there on your bill) and see how much energy you saved. CFLs use just 25% of the energy as a standard incandescent. If everyone used them wherever they can, it would save our country tremendous amounts of energy.

And remember, for every dollar you now send to PG&E for incandescent lighting, you can chop that down to 25 cents if you switch to CFLs.

If you don't make the switch, you're crazy.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"We've gotta protect our children!"

It's a line from The Music Man. "We've gotta protect our children!" In the movie version Buddy Hackett shouts the line at a town hall meeting, after Professor Harold Hill gets the townsfolk all riled up about the pool table that came into town.

What's wrong with a pool table? Nothing. But the little town in Iowa had never seen one before, so its residents were easily duped into believing it was evil because it was different. Professor Harold Hill exploited their ignorance to sell his band instruments to protect the kids.

A variation of this tactic is now being used to support Proposition 8. Oh-My-God if men can marry men and women can marry women they'll be telling our kids about it in school! And that would be HARMFUL!!!!

Well, they don't actually say it'll be harmful. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that it would be. So they can only imply it by screaming some variation of the alarm "We've gotta protect our children!"

Same-sex marriage is no more a danger than a pool table, and the moral agenda of the pro-8 movement is as bogus as Professor Harold Hill's boys band.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anti Prop 2 arguments are ridiculous

The arguments against Proposition 2 don't pass my ridiculous test. If something sounds ridiculous it probably isn't true.

Do Proposition 2 opponents really expect me to believe that allowing chickens to turn around and stretch their wings will force grocers to import toxic eggs from Mexico?

Clearly, they're trying to scare us away from doing the right thing because it will cost them some money to comply. But hey, if Prop. 2 passes they'll have a generous six years to make the necessary arrangements before it takes effect. I think they can manage that.

I certainly don't expect that anyone will risk their business by importing bad eggs.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why I'm voting against Measure Z

For those of you who just crawled out from under a log, Measure Z is the proposed half-cent sales tax increase to pay for roads, plus a few bus routes, in Monterey County. While there may be some good reasons to support it, I'm not jumping on the pro-Z bandwagon for three reasons.

First, Measure Z is not the original version of the proposal as envisioned by the Transportation Agency for Monterey County. The original plan included a small percentage for much needed intercity passenger rail projects which have already been delayed several years for lack of funds.

Unfortunately, county agriculture and tourism interests, the two largest industries in the county, said they wouldn't support the tax increase if rail was included. They didn't feel rail would do anything for them. TAMC caved in and now the measure is primarily directed towards roads. Big business has no business dictating transportation policy for the rest of us.

Second, roads have traditionally been funded with fuel taxes. It is the fairest method of funding roads because those who drive more pay more. Those who use larger vehicles, which put more wear and tear on roads than smaller vehicles, also buy more gas and thus pay more fuel taxes for road upkeep.

Unfortunately, state and federal fuel taxes have remained at 18 cents per gallon each since the mid '90s. With inflation they have lost a third of their value since that time. Measure Z wouldn't even be needed if it weren't for cowardly politicians who refuse to raise the gasoline taxes because, well, it's a tax and politicians hate tax increases. They also hate subsidies, but they hate tax increases more. The net effect of Measure Z is that shoppers are being asked to subsidize drivers.

Third, Pacific Grove and Seaside voters (not me!) approved a one-cent sales tax increase already this year. If Measure Z passes, sales taxes in these two towns will grow to a whopping 8.75%! In most states the sales tax is a more modest 4-6%.

I'm not going to tell you how to vote here. There are some good arguments in favor of Measure Z. But in my not so humble opinion, if we're going to ask shoppers to subsidize roads, we should also be allowed to subsidize alternatives to pavement, like rail, which is much, much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Otherwise, let motorists pay their own way at the pump, in direct proportion to their driving habits, instead of at the department store.

For some background information, see my earlier entry They Should Like Trains.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Yes on Proposition 1A

After four years of delays, we finally have a chance to vote for California's high speed rail program. Please don't be put off by naysayers who say we can't afford it. We can't afford not to connect California's largest cities with the latest, cleanest, most energy efficient, and most comfortable form of transportation known to man. It should be a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, people with no brains say we shouldn't be spending money on trains when we have roads to fix and more to build. But that's the whole point. High speed rail is expensive, but building more roads or airports to carry the same growing number of travelers between California's northern and southern cities would cost two to three times as much!

Critics call it a boondoggle. They said the same thing about BART 35 years ago, but nobody says that about BART today, because it has proven to be an indispensable part of the San Francisco bay area transportation system. Modernizing California's transportation systems is essential, not a luxury.

High speed rail will reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses, save energy, save money, protect the environment and enhance the state
economy. And did I mention that trains are also fun to ride?

Vote YES on Prop 1A!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Vote Felix for Seaside City Council

I have known Felix Bachofner for more years than I can remember, and I am happy to report that my good friend is running for a seat on the Seaside City Council this November 4th.

Felix will bring a breath of fresh air to Seaside politics. For too long we have suffered through mediocre city councils with little or no vision for our city's future. Several generations of mayors and councils have talked about redevelopment, but we still have little to show for it. Opportunities have been squandered by setting our sights too low.

Take the new development at Fremont and Broadway. That property was ideal for a major anchor tenant, such as a department store, to form the foundation of a new downtown which the city has long sought to develop on Broadway. That property needed something that would draw customers from all over the peninsula. Instead, our city council sold it below market value to a developer who gave us yet another Starbucks, a Kinkos, and a failed bank. Other spaces in the complex remain vacant and the Broadway vision has yet to materialize.

On Canyon Del Rey we had a prime property alongside Laguna Grande where now sits a Chili's restaurant. There's nothing wrong with chain restaurants, but the standard corporate architecture fails to take advantage of the scenic setting, and actually detracts from the most attractive park in the city. Perhaps if the city had required the developer to seek designs from local architects we might have a restaurant that blends into the natural surroundings and takes advantage of the lakefront setting with indoor/outdoor seating.

Years ago when Felix sat on the Seaside Planning Commission he and his fellow commissioners, along with the presiding city council, approved a train station for intercity rail service on Del Monte Avenue just north of Canyon Del Rey. But the late Jerry Smith, seeking to distance himself from the previous administration, killed the train station and replaced it with, yup, Starbucks. Felix would never put coffee ahead of our transportation needs!

Each of these council decisions carelessly took the first proposal that was presented and they were approved with little foresight, discussion, or architectural review. Felix wants to set a higher standard. He doesn't seek to approve whatever happens to come along. If a proposal doesn't make the best use of a particular site, Felix will work to find a better use. If a good project idea comes along, he'll ask the right questions and find ways to make the project work better, look better and provide a better payoff for both the developer and the city tax base.

Let's have no more willy-nilly development in Seaside. Vote for Felix on November 4th and support quality development in our city.

Go to www.felixforseaside.com to learn more.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'm glad I moved

I'm glad I moved my website and Mental Notes when I did. For eleven years the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box was hosted at no cost to me on AOL's Hometown service. I was notified today that AOL Hometown will be shutting down on October 31st, along with AOL Journals, which hosted these Mental Notes since 2004.

I had a lot of time on my hands this summer when I decided to move the Toy Box to a real hosting service. It took several weeks and many long hours of work to move everything, but it was worth it. If I had to do it now, during the busiest time of the year at work, I might not have been able to do it and the whole thing might have shut down for many weeks if not permanently.

My AOL Mental Notes archives may be saved. AOL states they will provide a way to transfer one's entries to another blogging service yet to be announced. Meanwhile, I went back and saved some of the more important entries just in case they get lost.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Duty, Bound

I got the notice in the mail about a month ago. I was instructed to report for jury duty at 8:15am on September 2, 2008. Being a night owl, and a late sleeper, I was relieved to learn, when I made the required phone call the weekend before, that I didn't actually need to report until 12:30pm.

I arrived in the cattle yard of the Monterey courthouse on time, but had the devil of a time trying to find a place to park. Me and a good 80-100 other potential jurors. I checked in with the clerk then waited with the crowd for another hour with nothing to do except use the rest room. The one I was directed to required an airport-style security check, which seemed to be more trouble than it was worth, so I decided to grin and bear it. Shortly thereafter I discovered a more easily acessible facility just steps away at the county health office.

At 1:30 names were called and the herd was run through the metal detector, then prodded upstairs into a courtroom so crowded that many potential jurors were forced to stand. The room was poorly lit with cool white fluorescents in the middle, which the dark paneling did not adequately reflect into the gloomy sides of the room. Anxiety engaged as I realized the government had absolute control of my life for an as yet undetermined amount of time.

Judge Robert O'Farrell entered, thanked us for attending, and explained the stuation. This was a civil trial, a wrongful death case involving a nursing home. It was expected to last three weeks. But he assured us this afternoon's selection process wouldn't take too long.

Ha!

Twelve names were called and these persons were told to sit in the jury box. They were then asked a series of questions. Did they know anyone on the witness list? Were they able to serve three weeks without hardship? Did they have any experiences with nursing homes that might affect their judgement? Several more questions were asked and every so often a juror was dismissed.

As each seat was vacated the questions were repeated for the replacement juror. Sometimes they might go through 8-10 prospects before getting someone who passed the questioning. After a couple hours of this, it looked like they had twelve people who could serve and be unbiased. Then the judge told the plaintiff's attorney he had the right to dismiss any juror without cause. The attorney, who I had now come to view as the prototypical ambulance chaser, did just that, and we began all over again. And again, and again, and again. As soon as he picked someone he rejected another. And another, and another, and another.

At first I was hoping they wouldn't call my name. After awhile, I was hoping they finally would. As each juror was rejected the remaining cattle let out ever more obvious groans of frustration. It was a ridiculously inefficient process, repeating the same questions over and over and over again as each juror was called and rejected. At 4:30 Judge O'Farrell said we would take a break, and resume at 9:00 the next morning.

A new day, the same story. Over and over the plaintiff's attorney rejected people he had previously accepted. Others were dismissed by the judge for hardship reasons. I was finally called at 10:15am and dismissed two minutes later.

I don't know why they interview one juror at a time. If we had been asked the questions collectively I think most of the rejects could have been weeded out in the first 45 minutes. Many courts use a written questionnaire, which would have saved some 80 people a lot of time as well. But since this is a government operation, it doesn't have to make sense, much less be efficient.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Latest Addition

I have corrected a twelve year old sin of omission. The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box Visitors Guide finally has a page describing the many opportunities to enjoy sports & recreation in our beautiful area.

Why has it taken so long to include such basic information in my website? Well, sports and recreation just aren't high priorities with me. I was the nerdy kid who was always picked last for the elementary school softball games. As for other sports, I had no interest whatsoever most of my life.

But, hey, this website isn't just about me. Its about the community, and I realized , having lived three fourths of my life here, that I actually have picked up a decent amount of knowledge on the subject, even though I've participated in just a few these activities only a handful of times. So the page was launched earlier this week.

I also performed a minor remodel of the visitors guide pages by adding a marbleized backdrop outside the text margins, similar to the dark blue backdrop on my home page. Eventually I'll do the same throughout the Toy Box.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Carmel Whine Cone

Mrs. Toy and I have noticed that the Carmel Pine Cone's editorials have grown more whiney over the last few years. Their August 15th editorial entitled The Front Page confirms that and then some.

Their subject of the week was media bias, which, apparently, they felt was important enough to justify a half page editorial. They began with a primer defining what media bias is and why it is inescapable. As proof that media bias is rampant and unavoidable, they offered as an example the fact that very little press attention was ever given to 9/11 conspiracy theories. Reporters who report from the "American perspective" can't help but assume that anything so silly as the American government master minding the 9/11 attacks is just that, silly. So I suppose that, technically speaking, American reporters are biased against anything that is ridiculous on its face.

But the Pine Cone extrapolated that sort of bias into proof that all reporting is biased in some way, that such bias is usually political, and then went on to conclude that the Monterey Herald has a liberal bias.

As proof of the Herald's alleged liberalism, they presented Exhibit A. No Exhibit B, C, D or anything else. Just one little example which made their case conclusively. It was the Herald's placement of the John Edwards sexual affair story last week.

Apparently the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times placed the Edwards story on the front page. ABC, CBS and NBC each opened their newscasts with this same story.

But the biased Herald, OH-MY-GOSH, put the Edwards story on an inside page. "This," the Pine Cone concluded, "was the Herald's way of saying it thought the story wasn't very important." Then the Pine Cone stated that "the informed reader surely understood it to be a political statement - in effect, that despite his failings, in the Herald's view, John Edwards is still a good guy."

WOW! That's a lot to read into a simple story placement. Perhaps Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller can also read tea leaves and sees images of the Virgin Mary in the skid marks his agile mind leaves behind him.

Let's apply the Pine Cone's logic to their own paper.

In that same issue the Pine Cone reported on state and local officials who are assessing the potential for erosion and mudslides in Big Sur next winter due to the loss of vegetation from the recent catastrophic fire.

The Herald had a similar report, on the front page. The Pine Cone's story was buried deep inside on page 9.

Apparently this is the Pine Cone's way of saying that potential mudslides, which could close Highway 1 this winter, and isolate Big Sur residents, are nothing to be concerned about.

An absurd conclusion? Yes, but perfectly reasonable using the Pine Cone's standards.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paris Hilton's Energy Policy

I've never been a fan of Paris Hilton. Until I saw this. McCain ran an ad comparing Obama to certain mindless celebrities. Here is how one of those celebrities responded.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

I'm actually inclined to agree with her. At best more drilling will only postpone the inevitable, but it could buy us some breathing room, a little more time for technological innovation before the oil runs out. Ultimately, though, dwindling supplies and increasing energy demand will force us to get off our oil habit. We had our first warning 35 years ago, but after Reagan took office we pretty much ignored it. Every day we delay is a day wasted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A realistic article on Amtrak

Thoughtful articles about my favorite political subject, passenger trains, are hard to come by. This one, Train in Vain is a notable exception. The author, Ben Jervey, makes a cross country trip on Amtrak and reports his findings.

Jervey seems genuinely concerned that this country hasn't made a commitment to passenger rail, and he shows why Amtrak isn't all it could be. He gently, but realistically distributes responsibility for the problem to all parties involved, including Amtrak itself. In all, I am in agreement with him that Amtrak should be more than it is, and that economic conditions will likely force the matter sooner or later.

Which brings me to something I heard last night. Leon Panetta gave a talk to a group at my workplace. He expressed frustration with American political tendencies to govern by crisis. Our leaders habitually wait until a problem becomes so incredibly bad that it can't be ignored before working on solutions. Transportation in general, and Amtrak in particular, are perfect examples of the principle. Given that transportation affects the economy, the environment, energy policy, public safety, and overall quality of life, we need better national transportation policies which acknowledge the importance of passenger trains.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our new store!

The upgrades to the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box continued this week with the addition of our new store! For lack of a better name, it is called the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box Store. It is stocked with guidebooks, maps, history books, art and photography books, literature and cartoons by local writers, locally made music, and our favorite subject, movies made on the Monterey Peninsula.

Our little shop is "powered" by Amazon.com, that megasized on-line retailer where you can get just about anything. Mind you, all I had to do was electronically gather a listing of Amazon's offerings of local interest and put them into an attractive home-grown package. Amazon does the rest. For this I'll make a little something off of each sale to help pay the Toy Box's bills. I hope you'll drop in and see if anything tickles your interest.

Regular Toy Box visitors may have noticed that I've also started adding those ubiquitous Google ads, both in this journal and in various places in the Toy Box. Google ads are funny things. They're designed to match the content of the page they're on. They're usually on target, but it can be amusing to see what they come up with.

For example, in my Republican Dictionary, wherein I poke fun at the modern GOP's use of language, the ads that have been showing up are for gay marriage services. How that happened is beyond me. Somewhat more understandable, on the page "Why a dog is better than a gun" ads were coming up for hunting supplies and puppies for sale. But today they had and inexplicable ad for FEMA disaster jobs. Anyway, watching to see what comes up is an amusing spectator sport.

All of these changes have taken a lot of time and work. But due to a lack of activity at work, I've had plenty of time to put these changes together. Let's hope it pay$ off with a little extra ¢hange in my pocket. Better that the ad revenue goes to me than to my former hosts at AOL, no?

Monday, July 14, 2008

iWANT

The Business section of Saturday's Herald showed a crowd of people gathered outside the AT&T store in Del Monte Center. The headline read "SOLD OUT, THEN NOTHING."

What was all the fuss about? A new phone. Not just any phone. Only the sleek lines of the latest Apple iPHONE can draw such crowds. This thing does everything. No, wait. The first iPHONE did everything. This one can do more than everything. It can do anything! Even things that nobody has thought of yet! Hence the crowd gathering outside the store to be the first to do anything with a phone.

Unfortunately, when people tried to actually use them, the sheer numbers of new subscribers overwhelmed the system and nobody could get them working.

Why the rush to get something that will still be there tomorrow? Why not wait until the bugs are worked out? Because Apple has everyone hypnotized into believing their sleek products are the best because they look the best. Hence they must be obtained immediately, before the next best thing makes them obsolete.

My experience with Apple products is mixed, however. Yes, they're good. Yes they look cool. But they're not necessarily the best. When shopping for technology, I don't just go with brand reputation. I look for positive user reviews, ease of use, and compatibility with other things I have. On the compatibility score, Apple fails every time. Apple is usually only compatible with Apple. As I learned when I shopped for my MP3 player, Sony's Walkman beat the iPOD hands down on ease of use, compatibility, battery life, and price.

As someone who works with technology, my advice is to get off the iWANT bandwagon, and shop around for the best value. You may find the crowd isn't so "with it" after all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The move is complete!

First of all, as noted in my previous entry, the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box has moved from AOL's free service to one that costs just pennies a day. The new address is www.montereypeninsula.info.

This is also to be my last Mental Notes entry in the AOL Journals service. When I learned that Google's free Blogger offered so many better formatting options I felt it was time to move this journal as well. AOL's service works just fine, but the format is just darned UGLY!!! Sorry AOL, but you aren't keeping up with the Joneses.

So my new Mental Notes journal can be found at mrtoysmentalnotes.blogspot.com I'll see you there!

Addendum, October 10, 2008: This entry was originally posted on AOL Journals. The old AOL archives have since been merged with the new Mental Notes on Blogger.

I have moved!

Well, folks, as I noted in my old Mental Notes page on AOL Journals, big changes have occurred at the Toy Box. A few days ago I moved the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box away from the free AOL Hometown hosting service to a more formal service that costs just pennies a day to maintain. The service I chose is InMotion Hosting, which from extensive research indicated reliable customer service. And with their 90 day money back guarantee I don't feel I'm taking too big a gamble on the move.

If you've gotten this far you may have noticed I have started placing banner ads in the Toy Box. AOL was doing this anyway, so I figured I should get a piece of the pie and have more control over the ad content. Most of the banners thus far are in my visitors guide. I have become an affiliate with Expedia, Best Western and the National Geographic Store, which I feel would be of interest to my readers. If you click those banners and make a purchase you will help support the Toy Box and all of its delightful free content.

I have also moved this journal from AOL's blog to Google's Blogger, primarily because Google provides much more elegant looking templates and a much larger variety of formatting options. No other reason, really, for otherwise AOL's Journals worked just fine. They're just darned UGLY!

However, I don't want you to miss out on the fine (?) content of my old journal, so a link is provided in the sidebar under Related Sites.

You may see the format of this new Mental notes journal change from time to time as I look for the best layout and design. So don't be alarmed if things look different on your next visit.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Changes are coming!

Big changes are coming to the Monterey Peninsula Toy Box. Our old AOL address, with the hard to remember URL of http://hometown.aol.com/toylandmry will soon be giving way to an easy to remember address. Actually, we have an official domain name but it hasn't been publicized much. I am the proud owner of www.montereypeninsula.info, which has pointed to the AOL servers for a couple of years.

AOL's free hosting has served me well for eleven years, but it's time to grow up. Or at least enter puberty (hey, I'm only 11!) The Toy Box will soon be moving to a "real" hosting service. Your old bookmarks to the AOL addresses will no longer be valid.

I'm doing this in the hopes that this labor of love might provide some modest financial reward. AOL has always placed banner ads across the top of my pages. I figure if there's gonna be ads, I should get a piece of the revenue. So it's time to move.

So I'm going commercial. It is my intention to present ad content that is relevant to my readers. I hope to offer links to places where you can buy books about our area, movies made here, places to make lodging reservations, and that sort of thing. Not big banner ads for Classmates.com which are only relevant to AOL.

Note, however, I will not be accepting ads or payments from local businesses directly. I fully intend to remain free from the corrupting influence of anyone who might have a financial stake in my site's content. My job as webmaster is to provide an unvarnished look at the Monterey Peninsula, not one that is sanitized by the local tourism industry.

To keep enjoying access to the Toy Box, update your bookmarks to the address www.montereypeninsula.info. Do it now. Until the move takes place, that address will still take you to the old site. Once the new site is up and running, it will automatically take you to our new home.

Just to reassure you, the content will still be the same old junk, with one exception. The Hatton Canyon Freeway pages will be taken off. The information there isa little dated, and most of it is no longer relevant. I am, however, thinking about adding a page to the history section to tell the story of how Carmel slayed the evil Hatton Canyon Freeway dragon.

This journal will also likely move, but not right away. I've never been too pleased with AOL's design options, which are very linited. Eventually, I hope to have a Mental Notes journal that matches the design of the rest of the Toy Box. But that is a fairly low priority, and it may take awhile.

So remember, WWW.MONTEREYPENINSULA.INFO. Not dot com, not dot net, but dot info, for information about our favorite place.

Addendum, October 10, 2008: This entry was originally posted on the old AOL Journals. My AOL archive has since been merged with the new Mental Notes on Blogger.

Friday, May 16, 2008

98 vs 99

On the ballot for the upcoming election are two competing propositions, 98 and 99. Both deal with eminent domain, the power of government to take private property for "public use."

As many of you may already know, in what was probably the least popular U.S. Supreme Court decision of all time, the term public use was defined as any use a government thinks will work better than what is there now. This gave local governments the right to force homeowners to sell their homes so someone else could build shopping centers in their place. Prior to this decision, it was assumed that public use was limited to things like roads, parks, and other, well, publicly owned things.

Propositions 98 and 99 are the latest attempts to fix this injustice, at least within California. Earlier attempts failed because they tried to do more than this one thing. Their authors decided to use the public outrage against the Supreme Court decision as an excuse to have eminent domain redefined their way, by throwing in prohibitions against not just seizures of property, but anything and everything a public agency might do which might affect property values.

Proposition 98 once again goes too far by putting in prohibitions against rent control. This is an unrelated matter that should be dealt with separately, and not lumped in with the eminent domain problem. It's just a sneaky way to pass legislation that wouldn't likely pass if it weren't riding on the coattails of a more popular issue.

Proposition 99 limits itself to seizures of private homes by preventing governments from transferring property for commercial use. It still allows private homes to be taken for public uses like roads or parks, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Prop 99 has the weakness of not protecting churches, farmland, or business property, but it keeps people in their homes, which is the most important issue.

It is especially important here on the Monterey Peninsula, because the city of Seaside seems pretty eager to take away some homes for a hotel development. Either proposition would stop Seaside from doing its dirty deed. However, I'm voting for 99, because rent control is a completely unrelated issue which should be dealt with on its own.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tax Relief Stupidity

Have you heard how John McCain and Hillary Clinton are pandering to voters this week? They want to eliminate federal gasoline taxes for the summer to give us a break from high gas prices. With gas pushing $4.00 a gallon, who wouldn't think this is a great idea?

Not me!

Gasoline taxes are the primary source of funding for our roads and highways, which, if you hadn't noticed, are falling apart. The highway trust fund already has a deficit of more than $3 billion. The gas tax holiday would add another $9 billion to that hole! That's $9 billion that wouldn't be employing construction workers who keep our roads in shape.

Clinton says she'll make up the difference by increasing taxes on oil companies. So oil companies would subsidize roads we all use. McCain says he'll cover the costs by eliminating pork in them transportation budget. Fat chance. There is pork, but nowhere near $9 billion worth.

Eliminating a good 25% of the year's road money would cost collectively us a bundle in the long run, while individually, it wouldn't save us much. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. You'd save a mere $2.76 per 15 gallon fill-up, or about $33 over for the summer if you fill up once a week.

I'm glad to see that one candidate, Barack Obama, is smart enough to see through this nonsense. He isn't interested in quick fixes that sound good on CNN.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How do you say Jaguar?

I turned on the radio this morning and heard a commercial for the Monterey Jaguar auto dealership. I always liked the look of Jaguars, ever since I was a kid.

And we always called the car "JAG-waar"

My three dictionaries say this is correct.

In recent years Jaguars have been advertised by gentlemen with English accents who pronounce it JAG-you-ar. That rattled my ears a bit, but two of my dictionaries still say it is correct, albeit as a secondary pronunciation.  That said, JAG-you-ar always sounded pretentious to me, as if the user thought the dictionary's first pronunciation was lowbrow.

But on the radio this morning, I realized the local Jaguar dealer has no idea how to pronounce the name of their car. The lady with the voice selling cars said "JAG-wire."

She's probably a "real-uh-tur" who supports "nuc-u-lar" power.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

LBAM Mania

Last year when the California Department of Food and Agriculture started spraying pheromones to keep these alien light brown apple moths from breeding, I was cautiously concerned about the effects of the program, but not particularly alarmed by it. But lately, every time agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura opens his mouth to reassure us the more worried I get.

In a March 30th commentary in the Monterey Herald, Kawamura used an entire column from top to bottom to tell us that the moth was a "bona fide threat" but he never bothered to point to any actual damage done by the moth, nor did he show that the moth has no natural enemies to keep it in check. He completely failed to address concerns about the pheromone spray, particularly the so-called "inert" ingredients that people are worried about.

His chief concern seemed not to be so much with the moth itself, nor with public health, but with Canada and Mexico's reluctance to buy California produce unless it is inspected to ensure no moths are traveling along. In essence, his concerns were primarily with commerce, not health, safety or the environment.

Perhaps even more disturbing
was his opening declaration "As California's agriculture secretary, it is my duty to protect farmers and their crops from the damage that may be done by pests, such as the light brown apple moth." He was clearly asserting his unilateral authority over this matter, as if he was dictator of agriculture and urban pests.

That's right, urban pests.

The spraying program not only includes Monterey Peninsula cities, but has has since greatly expanded to include most Monterey Bay area communities all the way to Santa Cruz and beyond. Additionally, the entire city of San Francisco, and much of the SF Peninsula, Oakland and much of the east bay are also expected to be sprayed early this summer. Apparently each of these areas are "infested" with the moth, and it is going to destroy California agriculture if it isn't stopped.

Take a look at this map
, and notice the pattern of infestation. The places where the moth has been found, and the places where they want to spray, are almost all urban areas. There are a few mountain areas north of Santa Cruz. The only farming areas are around Watsonville and immediately adjacent to Salinas. If this bug is such a threat to agriculture, why isn't it showing up in the predominantly agricultural areas of the state, like the Salinas Valley? Perhaps they're not as attracted to lettuce and brocccoli as Kawamura wants us to believe. Either that, or existing pest control programs are taking care of it.

Two interesting articles appeared in the Monterey Herald on April 11. One said that health officials could find no link between reported illnesses and the spraying last year. Unfortunately, they were also not able to rule out a connection, either. Somewhat worrisome: the health officials never bothered to interview any of the doctors who reported the illnesses to authorities.

The other article discussed what effects spraying might have on businesses unrelated to agriculture, like tourism. There was concern that the spraying might scare tourists away from places like Monterey and San Francisco. It might also affect home sales in areas scheduled for spraying. But most interesting was an observation by a Soquel nursery owner. The paper reported it this way:

"Chris Pavlos manages a nursery in Soquel, just south of Santa Cruz, where seven larvae were found rolled into tiny, sleeping bag-like sacs nestled in individual plant leaves.

The moths didn't defoliate or visibly damage any of the plants. But the discovery triggered a two-day shut down of the nursery, which caused a $50,000 loss in sales.

He's spent an equal amount hiring an in-house crew of moth hunters, who scour Soquel Nursery Growers' 14 acres looking for larvae and treating shrubs with insecticides.

"It's very difficult to get any real rest when they're inspecting you every two weeks," said Pavlos, as he walked through rows of flowering bougainvillea on a recent afternoon. "Even so, we're just not seeing the kind of damages to plants they keep talking about."
(emphasis added.)

Tom Karwin, who writes the gardening column in the Monterey Herald told a story about LBAM found in Nevada. While local authorities wrung their hands over what to do, Nevada state scientists stepped in and as Karwin tells it:

After several days,the agricultural agents held a press conference to report their findings to the community. They announced that they had indeed discovered the LBAM in several locations, but the population was very small and widely dispersed, and did not constitute a substantial threat to agriculture or residential gardens at present.

The agents also reported unusually large and healthy populations of predatory insects. They concluded that natural processes were controlling the LBAM population.

The people of Fained, Nev., took a deep breath of the clean air and went on with their lives.

Because of stories like these, I'm growing more and more convinced that the LBAM threat has been blown all out of proportion, and that fear, not science, is driving the spray program. Indeed, the scientists can't seem to even agree about the severity of the threat. CDFA scientists predictably say its a biggie, but U.C. Davis scientists say it isn't any big deal.

Who is right? I don't know, but please, let's clear up the dispute before spending millions of dollars on eradication programs that will expose millions of people to untested chemicals.

-------------

See my previous entries on this topic:
Spray Day! 9/25/07
Spray Delay 10/12/07
Thank You Arnold! 10/21/07


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

antiPOD

I've never been one to jump on a bandwagon. I find that in going along with the crowd a lot of good things get passed over unnoticed.

Take the iPOD bandwagon. Apple makes a great product here, to be sure, and they revolutionized portable music with an easy interface and attractive device.

However, while Apple's products are very good, if I was a grade school teacher I would put this note on Apple's report card: Does not play well with others.

If you're content to limit yourself
to Apple products, you'll be fine with an iPOD. But if you are like me, and don't want to become dependent on one company, there are many alternatives.

Recently, I thought it would be fun to get a portable music player. I'd been working hard and wanted a new toy. Doing chores to music makes the task much more enjoyable, like a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. I've played with other people's iPODs, and found them interesting, but they have shortcomings.

One of my complaints was the device's reliance on iTUNES, which constantly wants you to download upgrades.

My other problem was with Apple's white trademark touch-sensitive dial which has an extremely high "cool factor" but is too sensitive at times to use accurately. Furthermore, the dial has different functions depending on where you are in the menu systems. One of these functions is volume, so you can't adjust the volume if you are scrolling through the menus. You can only adjust volume if you are on the now playing screen.

iPODs account for 75% of the portable music devices sold these days. But there are many other manufacturers out there and they do as much or more than an iPOD at a lower price.

Case in point: I bought a 4GB Sony NWZ-S616F from Target the other day. I settled on the Sony based on user reviews at Amazon and Circuit City websites which indicate that Sony's MP3 players are very reliable. Sony's controls are all buttons, which have a solid "click" and the volume control is completely separate from the menu controls, so you can adjust it any time. The interface is clean, colorful and intuitive. Sound quality is adjustable through various preset EQ (what they used to call tone controls) settings, plus two customizable settings. The device also shows video, pictures (it makes a great replacement for wallet photos), and has an FM radio tuner which works at least as well as our tabletop stereo receivers. iPODs don't do radio, and an otherwise comparable iPOD Nano costs a good $40 more.

If that's not enough, the Sony's run time on a full charge is 33 hours vs 24 hours for an iPOD!

Sony's MP3 player can be fed with tunes, pictures and videos by doing nothing more than dragging and dropping files in Windows Explorer. If you want cover art and to make playlists, it works with Windows Media Player as well as Sony's own software which you can download or not at your discretion.

So by not jumping on the iPOD bandwagon, I got more, spent less, and am not dependent on the manufacturer for anything further. That's why I'm calling my new Sony Walkman my antiPOD.

Friday, March 7, 2008

California vs the EPA


Sing to the tune of Super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious:

Excess-Cali-fornia-green-house-gasses-gonna-toast-us,
Cuz the EPA won't let us regulate themostest,
Arnold Schwarzenegger's gonna sue theman who hosed us,
Excess-Cali-fornia-green-house-gasses-gonna-toast-us.

Dumb is the little minded Johnson guy,
Dumb is the little minded Johnson guy.

The EPA administrator says that we're apest,
For doing something that we're sure isreally for the best,
But Stephen Johnson's own employeesseem to side with us,
To try explaining his behavior they areat a loss.

OH!

Excess-Cali-fornia-green-house-gasses-gonna-toast-us,
Cuz the EPA won't let us regulate themostest,
Arnold Schwarzenegger's gonna sue theman who hosed us,
Excess-Cali-fornia-green-house-gasses-gonna-toast-us.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Farr Follies

I sent a letter to the president of Amtrak a few weeks ago. I was concerned with the way Amtrak was handling the Coast Starlight service disruption after a mudslide closed the tracks in Oregon. A couple of weeks later I received a nice, if somewhat vague reply signed by Alexander Kummant himself.

Since Amtrak is a federally funded transportation system, I also sent copies of my letter to our two lady senators and to our Congressman Sam Farr.

Sam Farr's staff sprang into action. They sent a copy of my letter to Amtrak's president seeking an explanation of Amtrak's actions on my behalf. Amtrak in turn sent Sam Farr a copy of Kummant's reply to me.

Sam Farr's eager staff sent me a letter proudly
informing me that they had investigated my complaint. They concluded that Amtrak had already replied to me and they sent me a copy of Mr. Kummant's letter which I had already received from Amtrak directly. No further action was taken by Sam Farr's office, as far as I could tell.

For this we need a Congressman?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another illiterate homonym


In my February 14th entry
I noted some homonyms posted by illiterate AOL users. One used "BAND" when he meant "banned" and another used "bread" when he meant "bred."

If that wasn't bad enough, I've begun to notice the misuse of homonyms in news stories, written by people who would have had to take an English class or two to qualify for their jobs.

Today this headline showed up on the KSBW website:
"New State Plan To Council Ailing Homeowners."

Sigh.

Council: a group of people elected to govern a local district; an appointed or elected body of people with an administrative, advisory, or representative function.

Counsel: advice sought from or given by somebody, especially somebody who is wise or knowledgeable




Saturday, February 23, 2008

Staples vs. Office Depot

At times I have considered starting a blog of Monterey Peninsula business reviews. Sort of like restaurant reviews, but for places we shop at or call on for services. But I don't really shop at that many different places, so the thing would likely not get very far.

But I would like to share my expreiences at the two most prominent ofice supply stores, Staples and Office Depot. I tend to go to Staples because its closer to home, and right along my normal route home. Office Depot is usually out of my way, if only slightly.

Both shops have been in business a good long time now, and I've noticed that they go through synchronistic, but opposite phases of service quality. When one is providing good service, the other tends to go downhill. In their early years, Staples service was distinctly inferior to Office Depot. After a time, the Staples crew improved dramatically, while Office Depot's people got sloppy and lazy. Now the trend has reversed again, and I'm finding Office Depot's staff is on top of things, while Staples people are losing it again.

Case in point: The last few times I've gone to Staples to buy ink for my printer, Staples didn't have any yellow. They didn't even have a peg on the shelf for my yellow. They had full pegs for black, cyan and magenta, but not for yellow. Not even an empty peg.

I brought this to the attention of the staff, and they checked their stock, and said they were out. So I went to Office Depot which was adequately stocked in all colors.

This week I needed yellow ink again. I went to Staples, figuring that after a couple of months they would have a peg for yellow.

Nope.

I spoke with a salesperson who checked the back room stock and reported that the last yellow had been sold, but more would be in soon. I asked if they were going to get a peg for the yellow, and he only said I needed to ask for it when I came in.

Why can't they just put yellow on a peg next to the other colors and be done with it?

I said if it was going to be this much of a hassle, and if I had to make another trip it was going to be to Office Depot. So that's where I went. Their price is a little higher, but at least yellow was in stock and I didn't have to ask for it. While browsing for other items I was asked twice by pleasant voices if I needed assistance. I didn't, except to check out, and the cashier was equally pleasant.

So I guess I'm going to Office Depot for ink in the future. I'd rather just stop at Staples, because its right on the way home, but I'd prefer to just stop once.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Explaining McCain

I am thoroughly amused by the political pundits who seem unable to explain John McCain's success. They keep telling us that McCain isn't connecting with the Republican conservative "base" and therefore may not be a true conservative. Based on this, they question his ability to win, even while he is winning.

The explanation is obvious to anyone who doesn't define the Republican party by its so-called "base." This base is assumed to be people who march in lock-step with a predefined set of "conservative" values exemplified by the Bush administration. The failed Bush administration. Of course, Bush has proven to be anything but conservative. Radical is a better word.

I'm not a big fan of McCain, but he would be a much better president that the current guy. If McCain had won in 2000, we'd be in much better shape today. I think most Republicans are finally starting to realize this.

Anyway, my point is that the so-called "base" of the Republican party is too small, too radical, and too myopic to adequately support a national political party for very long. McCain is winning for a very simple reason. The GOP as a whole is no longer willing to go along with the few Republicans who have screwed up this country.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Illiterate homonyms

I often read the news on AOL, after signing in to check my mail. The public comments that often follow the stories paint a pretty bleak picture of the thought processes of other readers. Unfortunately, there is often a lot of mindless hostility expressed.

And today there was some mindless spelling.

A story about Barry Bonds gave us these two comments:

1. "...strip Bonds of the Home run record and BAND him from Baseballs Hall of Fame for EVER !!!!!!!!!!!!"

2. "HE WAS BORN AND BREAD A BALLPLAYER."

No further comment should be necessary on my part.

 

 

Monday, February 4, 2008

Seaside, Pacific Grove, and their taxes


Seaside wants us to approve a one-cent increase
in the sales tax to pay for city services. That would give us the highest sales tax rate on the peninsula, at 8.25%, beating out Sand City's 7.75%. Add in the proposal for a half-cent increase to pay for county roads, and the sales tax in Seaside would be 8.75%, which would be obscene.


So I'm voting against Measure R. As a Seaside resident we need better city services to be sure. But the city hasn't been doing enough to create the kind of economic development which would bring in tax revenue without raising taxes.

Seaside has been trying to develop Broadway as a new "downtown" business district. It's a great vision, but so far the execution has hardly been inspiring. Take the beautiful new shopping plaza on Fremont and Broadway. That was supposed to be the catalyst for more development in the area. But that site needs an anchor type retailer that will draw customers from all over the peninsula, which would in turn attract more stores to the neighborhood. Something big like a department store, JC Penney, perhaps, or maybe a Barnes & Noble bookstore, to compete with the Borders monopoly on the peninsula.

Instead they gave us another Starbucks and a Kinkos.

BFD


The city of Seaside is simply setting its sights too low, and trying to raise taxes to compensate for our leaders' lack of vision.

Pacific Grove is doing the same thing. Voters there rejected a tax increase last fall. Downtown PG is likewise suffering from a lack of vision. They, too, need a strong anchor store to bring in people from all over the peninsula. The building they need is right in their midst. It once housed Holman's Department Store, which was once comparable in size and prestige to Monterey's Macy's.

But the upper half of the Holman building has been empty for a decade while the rest of it is occupied by an antique mall, which attracts only a few specialty shoppers. There have been proposals to convert the building into a hotel or condominiums, but they don't seem to want to try to attract a major retailer back to the "last hometown."

And since the PG city council couldn't sell a tax increase, they're talking about ridiculous schemes to put parking meters along the shoreline, cutting services, and so forth. All because they don't seem to have the ability to attract retailers into their retail district.