Monday, December 13, 2004

Our New Tree

I think that I shall never see
A blog as int'resting as a tree....

When you enter Monterey on Del Monte Boulevard there is a sign saying "Tree City USA" an honor given only to those cities which have nurtured and respected their urban forestry. There should be a corresponding sign going the opposite direction into Seaside: "Welcome to treeless city USA."

Look across the bay from Cannery Row and you can pretty much identify the Seaside city limits by the timberline. Monterey has trees, Fort Ord has trees. Seaside has concrete. That's not to say that Seaside doesn't have any trees, but it is safe to say that Seaside doesn't have many trees. Here and there are a few grand oak and cypress, but most of the city's arboreal collection consists of pathetic, manicured shrubs on sticks, barely able to overshadow a Volkswagen Beetle.

So the Toys been doing our part to plant more trees in Seaside.

We planted one Saturday. It is the sixth tree we've planted since we bought our house six years ago, and it will probably be the last. We've run out of room.

When we arrived as the new owners of this small plot of land, we had one holly tree, about 20-25 feet tall, one lemon tree and one apple tree. The latter are delightfully fruitful, but they are barely taller than we are. We wanted to make a statement, show the neighborhood how trees can make the world a better place.

We began with a silver dollar eucalyptus in the northwest corner of the back yard. It was planted in September of 1999, and it has grown quickly, its leaves shimmer in the slightest breeze. It will soon exceed the height of the holly tree.

The following March, we acquired a red flowering eucalyptus to screen our bedroom window from the ugly condos in the next block. It began to do its job well within a couple of years, having reached a height of about 12 feet. Unfortunately, in late 2002 a fierce storm snapped off the main trunk half way up, and that ugly condo was visible again. I sawed the tree flush just below the break, and within a few weeks a small sprout appeared just below the cut. That sprout immediately went vertical, and today it looks almost the same as it did before the storm.

When we bought the red flowering eucalyptus, the nursery salesman showed us a bay tree, the kind with leaves that you can put in soup and stuff. Ahh, that smelled good. We had to have it. It was an impulse purchase. It went into the ground between the driveway and the neighbor's fence. Its a slow grower, and today it is only about 7 feet tall, about twice its original height. The same is true of two podocarpus we planted a year or so later for some vertical interest along the back fence. They're just now beginning to peek into the neighbor's back yard.

There's something about planting a tree and watching it grow. I watched the two eucalyptus trees carefully They started less than four feet tall, and I watched with great anticipation as they progressed, week after week, month after month. I measured them against myself, and felt great joy when they first reached above my head. Soon they began looking like real trees, and they will soon become a part of the neighborhood skyline.

Fast forward now to last summer. We hired a gardener to tidy up our much neglected front yard. Overall he did a very nice job, but on his first day he left a lady helper unattended with instructions to pull weeds. Instead this crazy lady yanked out a large lavender bush at the corner where the driveway meets the sidewalk. She said "it was dry." IDIOT! It was perfectly healthy and in full bloom! I shooed her off the property and called the gardener. He said he would replace it right away.

To make a long story short, he did a nice job landscaping the rest of the yard, but he never replaced our bush. I was angry enough to finally stop calling him and throw his number away. But then I started thinking. Maybe he did us a favor. That might make a great place for a tree.

Thus began the quest for just the right tree. We had to choose more carefully this time, due to its proximity to a public sidewalk and, this is the big problem, overhead power lines.

It took several visits to nurseries, and lots of perusing in the Sunset Western Garden Book. At first we figured we needed something short and skinny. However, we couldn't find anything we liked that wasn't a puny glob of leaves on a stick. We wanted something bolder. But finding a bold tree to fit in a small area is quite difficult. We thought a Jacaranda might be a good choice, with its spectacular blue blooms. But the ones the nursery had were either too large to fit in the car, or too heavily manicured to grow the way it needed to grow.

Then the fellow at Valley Hills nursery suggested the California Pepper Tree (Schinus Molle) which is actually a native of Peru. It has a nice feathery leaf arrangement that lets light filter through, a slight drooping characteristic, like a moderately weeping willow, and large bright red clusters of marginally edible peppercorn-like things in the fall. Its maximum height was within our parameters, but I was afraid it might grow too wide.

The nurseryman directed me to view two mature specimens, one behind Colton Hall, the other on Van Buren and Scott streets, just up from the First Theater. Bingo! These mature trees were absolutely wonderful! They had hefty, burly trunks. Spectacular twisted limbs spread wide, high enough to clear the sidewalk and driveway, but low enough to avoid the power lines. One in our front yard would make a bold statement to the neighborhood that this tree is here to stay. Even in youth, these trees are very attractive. In age, they are spectacular.

But then doubts began to creep in. The Sunset garden book said the leaves may cause dermatitis. Some websites suggested the pollen can cause asthma. Would this be a good tree or not?

Finally, on Saturday when I was driving from one shopping area to another, I saw one on the street behind the Carmel Mission, another in its courtyard, and a couple more on Rio Road. They were all perfectly beautiful. I figured, if it was good enough for the mission courtyard, it was certainly good enough for us.

So I went right to the nursery, plunked down ten bucks for a little three foot tall specimen, took it straight home, and planted it.

It reaches just above my stomach.

Friday, November 19, 2004

What Kerry should have said

"I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Those words came back to haunt John Kerry at every step of the campaign. They were provided the foundation for accusations, and acted as confirmation, that Kerry was an untrustworthy flip-flopper.

Why, oh, why didn't he mention that there were two different bills? One was better than the other. He voted for the good one, and against the bad one.

Now, was that so hard to explain?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Moral Voter

Shortly after the election some poll or another indicated that voters in the so-called "red" states voted for George Bush because of his position on moral issues. Evidently, they perceived he had solid moral values which his opponent did not posess. No doubt they got this impression from Bush's attack ads more than from anything Kerry said or did himself.

But let's look at this a little more closely. The Republican party tends to limit its discussion of moral values to issues related to sex. Things like sex education, gay marriage, abortion, and Janet Jackson (who has lovely breasts). However, the foundation of morality is in loving your neighbor as yourself, and the Golden Rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sex is the least of it.

The Golden Rule is as important in international relations as it is with interpersonal ones. Here the GOP falls pathetically short. Bush has unilaterally broken treaties, cut funding for family planning assistance in overpopulated countries (the sex thing again), denied prisoners at Guantanamo the legal protections of POWs, failed to accept responsibility for the Abu Ghraib abuses (hell, Bush can't even pronounce "Abu Ghraib"), ignored the concerns and advice of our allies while insisting they do what we tell them, etc. If Russia or China had done any of these things, Bush would have called them rogue nations, reckless and irresponsible. We wouldn't want any of these things done unto us, so there is no justification for us doing such things unto others.

The President of the United States has little or no influence over sexual behavior, nor should he, and he shouldn't be elected based on those issues. He does, however, have responsibility for how this country behaves in the world. It is not in our national interest to violate our own, Christian principles in the name of national interest. In the end, such actions only harm our credibility, our trustworthiness, and our moral leadership.

I voted for Kerry on moral grounds, because he understood this.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Bush's concept of reaching out.

The day after the election President Bush said "America has spoken, and I'm humbled by the trust and confidence of my fellow citizens." Humbled? That remains to be seen.

"I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it." With these words, the newspaper reported, Bush was reaching out to the other side.

His reaching out to the opposition lasted all of one day. On Friday he said "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals." Since I don't share many of his goals, I guess I, and the other 49% of Americans, can forget about Bush reaching out to us.

Mr. Bush, if you want to earn my respect, if you want to earn my trust, if you want to be the President of all Americans, not just "red" Americans, you need to stop telling us what to think, and start listening to what we think.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Polling Place Problems

In the next few days I plan to share my thoughts on the outcome of the election. But before I get into that, I want to express my displeasure with the setup at our polling place.

We vote at the Oldemeyer Center in Seaside. We arrived there at 3:45pm to avoid the after work rush hour.

It was widely reported before the election that a large turnout was expected, yet our polling place was completely unprepared for anything more than the miniscule turnout normally seen during an off-year ho-hum election.

To make matters worse, two precincts, 77 and 78, were combined and crammed into a small room barely large enough to handle one in a normal election. This small room had only one 36" wide door to handle both incoming and outgoing traffic, which was constant.

There were signs posted in the hallway, with 77 on the left wall and 78 on the right, leading to confusion in the line as to where people were supposed to go. A rope had been set up, supposedly to separate the two precincts, but it led to the same narrow door, and everyone ended up on one side of the rope, due to unclear signage. One sign for Precinct 77 was posted on a door that led to an empty room, further adding to the confusion.

Inside the tiny room there were two tables set up to sign in, one for each precinct. 77 on the left, and ours, 78 on the right. 77 was given twice as much space as 78.

Precinct 78 was laid out in an L shape in one corner of the room, with the sign-in table on the short leg, and the voting booths on the long leg of the L. That might have worked, except that a large, heavy immovable table had also been placed inside of the L, within two feet of both the table and the booths, leaving precious little space to actually move. One stray booth was placed outside of this imposing table, right next to the line of incoming people. I was assigned to that lone booth.

I laid out my ballot, only to feel the eyes of the people waiting in line peering over my shoulder. I requested another booth. That one offered adequate privacy, but the pen used to mark the new optical scan ballot was on a chain that wastoo short to reach across the 18" square table, so I kept having to shift the oversized ballot around the table.

Meanwhile, across the hall, a large multi-purpose room, which could have easily accommodated both precincts with plenty of wiggle room, sat empty.

But at least we didn't run out of ballots like another Seaside precinct did.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Birthday Wish

Tomorrow, November 3rd, is my birthday.

I don't need clothes, or toys or cake (well, maybe cake).

What I really want for my birthday is a new President.

Please help make my birthday wish come true.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Dress nice, America

What has happened to casual attire? When did it become acceptable to look like a slob?

More and more perfectly normal people, respectable people, people who have good careers, nice homes, and a healthy wardrobe budget, choose to dress in faded old T-shirts, baggy synthetic basketball shorts, and dirty baseball caps (often worn backwards) when they go out in public on their days off.

This is particularly puzzling when you consider how obsessed people are over their breasts, abs, thighs etc. For some reason they want their bodies to look great, while they cover up their fine physiques with dumpster fodder.

They claim a desire for comfort. But nice looking clothes can be comfortable, too. Or is it convenience? I don't think so. It is no more difficult to put on a clean, nicely styled shirt than it is to put on an ugly old one.

Whatever the reason, I don't like the result. Dress nice, America.

Friday, October 22, 2004

How can anyone think of voting for this guy?

He said he would be a uniter, not a divider. Have you ever seen this country so divided?

He claims to be a world leader, but the world isn't following.

He said he would only use force agains Iraq as a last resort, but he didn't try anything else. When Iraq allowed UN inspectors back in it provided an opportunity to avoid war. Yet he treated them as an impediment to his war plans, dismissed their findings, and went in anyway.

He told us that Saddam had massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. His Secretary of State went to the UN with photos showing exactly where they were. Yet when the UN inspectors couldn't find anything, he insisted it was because Saddam was hiding them beyond anyone's sight.

He told us that Iraqi oil sales would pay for reconstruction, now he continues to ask for more and more of our money for reconstruction as insurgents continue to disrupt Iraq's economy.

He failed to secure Iraq's borders, allowing terrorists in where few existed before. He also failed to secure Iraq's ammo dumps, which geve the terrorists and insurgents free weapons to use against us. Then he had the chutzpa to say that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism.

He talked tough about getting rid of Saddam's non-existent nukes, but he says little about North Korea's existing nukes.

He ignored the warnings of the outgoing Clinton Administration which told him that Osama bin Laden would be a major problem. Instead he focused on missile defense.

He turned a record surplus into a record deficit in record time.

He complains about "tax and spend" liberals. Though he cut taxes, he's spending more than ever.

He calls himself a conservative, yet he acts impulsively.

He doesn't listen to different points of view, doesn't care what anyone else thinks.

He doesn't involve others in his planning. When he proposes a reform, he doesn't consult with those who would be affected, or even with those whose cooperation is necessary to carry out his plans.

He trusts his instincts, but he ignores hard data.

His campaign rallies are by invitation only. His opponent's are open to the public.

He talks big, but he accomplishes little.

So why do people think he's a strong leader?

Bush is good at making pleasing sound bites for the evening news, but not very good at making things work.

Kerry is good at making things work, but his intricate knowledge of issues doesn't translate well into sound bites.

Too many people only listen to sound bites.

Thus they think that the incompetent one is the strong leader, while the intelligent one is untrustworthy.

This election is not about right vs left, red vs blue. It isn't even about being right.

It is about doing the job right.
See also
The Leadership Issue

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hurricane preparations

OK, we've seen it three times in the last few weeks, and many, many times over the years. Folks in Florida and the Gulf Coast are shown on TV news scrambling to buy plywood at Home Depot so they can board up their windows to protect their homes from the impending hurricanes.

I have a stupid question: Haven't these people ever heard of shutters?

Shutters were invented, oh, centuries ago to protect windows from major storms. They're pre-cut, pre-hung, and conveniently hinged so that all a homeowner need do is close them and latch them in place. There's no need to make a last minute dash to the lumber yard, no need to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of work every time a storm approaches.

Out here in California we are smart enough to prepare for the unexpected. We bolt our houses to their foundations, we keep a stock of emergency food and suppplies on hand. We never know whan an earthquake will strike, so our building codes and personal practices make us as ready as we can be.

If anyone in Florida or the other Gulf states is reading this, can you answer my question for me?

Thursday, September 9, 2004

The Twelve Days of George Bush

On the first day of George Bush here's what he gave to me:
Halliburton in a date tree.

On the second day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the third day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the fourth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the fifth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the sixth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the seventh day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the eighth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Eight new departments
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the ninth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Nine angry allies
Eight new departments
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the tenth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Ten Fox cheerleaders
Nine angry allies
Eight new departments
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the eleventh day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Eleven friends appointed
Ten Fox cheerleaders
Nine angry allies
Eight new departments
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

On the twelfth day of George Bush, here's what he gave to me:
Twelve spending programs
Eleven friends appointed
Ten Fox cheerleaders
Nine angry allies
Eight new departments
Seven no-bid contracts
Six secret meetings
Five sweetheart deals
Four broken treaties
Three tax cuts
Two Mideast wars
And Halliburton in a date tree.

Sunday, September 5, 2004

The Hotel Del Monte will be saved!

Last year the US Navy presented plans to demolish two wings of the historic Hotel Del Monte, which is now part of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

For those not familiar, The Hotel Del Monte is a prominent Monterey landmark with a massive red tiled roof which can be seen from miles away. The original hotel was first built in 1880. It burned down in 1887 and was rebuilt in 1888. The center section of the hotel burned down again in 1924 and was rebuilt in 1926, leaving the 1888 wings intact. It is these 1888 wings the Navy wanted to demolish and rebuild, a process which they said would save $13 million dollars over retrofitting the existing buildings.

But the hotel is tied to many significant developments in Monterey's history. Among these were the introduction of the railroad to Monterey, the development of Pebble Beach, and it started the local tourism industry. Over the years, the hotel hosted numerous dignitaries and celebrities before being sold to the Navy during WWII. It also played a role, albeit an indirect one, in saving the Carmel Mission from oblivion. It is as important to local history as Colton Hall or the Royal Presidio Chapel.

I posted an emergency alert on my website providing contact information to protest the demolition. I know that at least a few of my visitors made the effort. Unfortunately, the Monterey City Council was less helpful. They were more worried that the Navy might close the school if they didn't get their way, so the council sheepishly voted to endorse the demolition plan. Shame on them!

But good sense has prevailed. A few days ago I received an official (and somewhat cryptic) notification that renovation was now the preferred plan, and that demolition was no longer being considered, due to the public opposition and the building's eligibility for registration on the National Register of Historic Places. Today's Monterey Herald confirmed this.

Thanks go to the United States Navy for seeing the light, and to the people who contacted the Navy brass and stood up to protect an irreplaceable historic treasure. Hizzonor the Mayor, Dan Albert, on the other hand, should receive a chorus of Bronx Cheers and a boot out the door at the next election.


Monday, August 30, 2004

The Leadership Issue

Going into the Republican convention, which starts today, I am intrigued by one remark repeated over and over by many Bush supporters. They say he is a proven leader based on his actions after the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that Gore or Kerry wouldn't have done as well.

Come on. Bush's response after 9/11 was to invade Afghanistan and remove the Taliban, who had harbored Osama bin Laden and enabled him to run his network of terrorist training camps. I hate to tell Bush supporters this, but as Tom Friedman, a respected writer on middle eastern issues said, "that was a no-brainer." Any 7th grader could have figured that out. It was not brilliance, but a mere accident of history that Bush was there to do it and not someone else.

It is Bush's handling of the more complicated matters that followed which really demonstrate his leadership abilities, or rather the lack thereof. If Bush was really a world leader like, say, his father, he would actually have the world following his lead. But outside of Afghanistan and the pursuit of Al Qaeda, the world is not following. It is in fact turning the other way. Many Americans are doing the same, and this self proclaimed "uniter" has divided the nation and the world like never before.

Bush's handling of Iraq has been sloppy at best. From the premature "Mission Accomplished" boast to the Abu Ghraib fiasco Bush and his team have been bumbling their way through. They failed to secure Iraq's borders allowing terrorists in to take root where none existed before. Paul Bremer censored that fellow Al Sadr's newspaper, an act which not only violated our own principles of freedom of speech (and made us look like hypocrites), it turned the spotlight on a marginal opposition player and turned him into the most influential opponent of the post-Saddam war. Now our military is stretched thin and, because of Bush's go-it-alone arrogance, we are unable to rally the support of our allies and we are forced to rely on exhausted soldiers to keep Iraq intact. God help us if Al Qaeda establishes a foothold in another broken down country for we won't have the resources to invade again.

Among those making the claim of Bush's proven leadership after 9/11 is Senator John McCain. But to his credit, McCain also says that John Kerry is a good man, a proven leader, and would also make a good president. The difference, which McCain fails to state publicly, is that Kerry understands the intricacies of world affairs far better than Bush, and would thus make wiser choices, make more realistic committments of military resources, and engage in better diplomacy so that the world will again follow our lead.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bye Bye K-Mart

Last week K-Mart in Seaside announced that it was closing. Good riddance. 

A few years ago when Target came to town I thought (and even spoke aloud to Target employees) "If I was the manager of K-Mart I would be very afraid." K-Mart was a really sloppy store back then, but, believe it or not, when Target opened people were concerned that it would negatively impact K-Mart.

Actually, K-Mart cleaned up its act, for awhile anyway. It actually became a nice place to shop, well, nicer anyway. It still wasn't as nice as Target, but at least I wasn't tripping over Martha Stewart's linens when I walked through the aisles.

Now and then I'd find in K-Mart just the thing I needed, things that nobody else had. I found the perfect wall-mounted cordless phone that wouldn't fall off the hook when you bumped it. I found a terrific pair of shoes for $24 that has lasted me several years and are still going strong. I found a perfect little cell phone belt case. I got some great deals on DVDs.

But in the last year or so things started going downhill again. Shoes? They have the styles I want, at a great price, but never in my size. When I asked for help, I was told the person who had the keys to the shoe stock was off that day. DVDs? Locked up behind glass and no help to open it. A small fan to cool a small room? Only big ones available.

There's a big clearance sale going on now. I thought I'd check it out. All of the good stuff was only 10% off. Not even as good as many routine sale prices. The only thing I came away with was a pair of wiper blades, at 20% off.

It looks like the new tenant will be Home Depot. Some are afraid that it will unfairly compete with M&S Building Supply down the street, or (get this) with Orchard Supply. Get real. Both of these places could use some healthy competition. M&S has a mediocre selection, and if you're not a pro you'll be lucky to find an employee who understands the needs of the layman. 

And Orchard? It is clean and well laid out, but for a store that size it is amazing what they don't have. Take compact fluorescent light bulbs. In the last ten years they have gotten smaller, lighter and cheaper so that they'll fit almost anywhere. But Orchard still stocks only the largest and heaviest brands that hardly fit anywhere. One time I was looking for a recessed soap dish for the shower to replace a broken one. Nope, only recessed toilet paper holders. I finally found one at M&S.

And Orchard's staff is utterly worthless. I can't tell you how many times I've asked for help, only to be told "I don't know, I don't work in this department." So much for "We've got answers." And every time I get in a checkout line someone ahead of me is having trouble with a transaction and holds the line up for several minutes.

So competition would be a good thing, in my opinion. Orchard and M&S will either learn from K-Mart's mistakes and do a better job, or they will make K-Mart's mistakes and mercifully fade away.


9/7/04 Addendum: OK, I made a mistake. I was in Orchard Supply yesterday and saw they had a good selection of compact Fluorescent light bulbs. They were all the same no-name brand, but many shapes and sizes were available. Mr. Toy takes a bite out of his hat.

But that's actually not what I went there for. I went for weed preventer. Last year I bought an 18 pound container for a little over $20. On the last three trips all they've had was a 6 pounder for $12.99, about 80-90 cents more per pound. Maybe Brintons.... 

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Stupid Meter Maid Tricks

Chapter 1

A couple of weeks ago I was driving towards Cannery Row. I turned off of Lighthouse into the left lane of Foam. For those unfamiliar with the area, Foam is a two lane one way street.

Traffic was heavy that day, as it usually is on summer weekends. As I turned onto Foam, traffic came to a dead stop. I could see some yellow flashing lights ahead, and as I slowly crept forward I saw it was a meter maid cart.

The meter maid wasn't writing a ticket, she was just talking to someone. Her cart was blocking traffic. People in the left lane were trying to get around her, but were having trouble due to heavy traffic in the right lane. This meter maid was clearly oblivious to the fact that she had two lanes of traffic backed up for almost two blocks. Sensing that, I decided to let her know, so as I passed I rolled down my window and said "You're gumming up traffic." All she needed to do to solve the problem was to move into one of several empty parking spaces a few feet ahead of her.

Immediately she began to pursue me. At the Reeside signal she stopped in a parking space alongside me and shouted for me to roll down my window, which I did. She then screamed "If you have a problem you take it up with the parking department. I was just doing my job!"

Which made me wonder, if what she was doing was so important, why was she suddenly able to drop it and pursue me? Anyway, a few minutes later I saw her again, blocking traffic. This time she was on a side street, with a line of cars wrapped around the corner trying to turn off of Foam onto that side street. Again, she was oblivious, and again she could have gotten out of their way by pulling off to a clear spot immediately in front of her.

Anyway, per her instructions, I called the parking office the following Monday and made a complaint.

Chapter 2

Today I was driving the same route, and in almost exactly the same place there was a meter maid blocking traffic. I can't say for sure that this was the same meter maid, but she looked similar. She was standing on the sidewalk two or three car lengths from her cart, writing a ticket. Traffic was lighter today, and I was able to pass her cart with less trouble.

But as I passed, it began moving. Slowly at first, and I suddenly realized nobody was in it! I watched in my mirror as it picked up speed and drifted across two lanes of traffic. It seemed like an awfully long time before I saw the meter maid in frantic foot pursuit. Too late, it smashed into the side of a parked car, probably belonging to an unsuspecting tourist who came here to have a good time.

Chapter 3

I've never been very fond of Monterey's parking enforcement staff. One time, several years ago, a zealous officer ticketed several people in my neighborhood multiple times in one week. We were all parked in our own driveways, which were just a little too short for a car to completely clear the sidewalk. Never mind that we'd been parking there for many years. For this one week we were his favorite target.

And a few years ago I was ticketed for lingering too long in a 90 minute space. Problem is, the time indicated on the ticket showed that it was issued just 45 minutes after I parked. I tried to fight it, but lost. It was my word against the ticket. Guess which they believed.

Ironically, the City of Monterey's official parking website is called "Smart Parking."

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm still here.

Its has been awhile since I checked in with my two (that I know of) regular readers. Rest assured, I'm still here.

John Hartford had a song wherein he describes in witty verse a series of calamities. He cheerfully concludes each verse by singing "...but I'm still here."

And so am I.

So many things on my mind, and so little time to share them. The reason for my absence from this journal was a co-worker on paternity leave, suffering from twins. That left just two or us to run a place that will soon require four if business keeps picking up as it has the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, I have found a little time each day to play my banjo. I got a mute, a small clamp that keeps the bridge from vibrating, so I can play at night. It also gives the banjo a soft, soothing tone so it is like having two instruments in one. I know three songs reasonably well now, and I'm working on a fourth & fifth. It is really cool to be playing banjo that sounds like real banjo after only a couple of months. There's a lot yet to learn, and I can only manage to form my fingers into four or five chords, but every week my skills improve just enough to keep me encouraged.

I'm really enjoying the speeches from the Democratic National Convention. I remember the previous convention season when Paula Poundstone reported on Jay Leno "There's a lot of phoniness here." And she was right. The Democrats have gotten over that. They're addressing real meat and potatoes issues this time, and doing it very well. If the party continues in this mode, this former Republican may just go from being officially independent (or, more accurately "decline to state" in California), to a true blue Democrat.

One particular item of interest was seeing two former military men at the podium Wednesday night, both of whom were, until recently, Republicans. One was a former Marine, now running for Congress. The other was a famous General. They talked about the poor state of our military after having been spread too thin in Iraq.

Other great speakers in the first few days included Jimmy Carter, former President Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton (a great speaker, but he was horribly miscast as a primary candidate), and my favorite so far, Theresa Heinz Kerry.

I notice the only news network providing full coverage is CNN. But at the Toy house we've been watching the convention on C-SPAN. There's no better way to watch the conventions. They show everything without the silly punditry.

Which reminds me. I remember back in 1980, at the Republican convention, there were rumors about former President Gerald Ford possibly being Ronald Reagan's runnning mate. Some stupid reporter picked up on a related rumor that Ford would only accept if he were an equal partner creating a "co-presidency." For the next hour or so all of the networks, not wanting to be left out of the rumor mill, were talking about this co-presidency idea, wondering if it was constitutional and so forth. It was one of the great low spots in convention reporting. 

So that's where I've been. Working hard, playing banjo, watching the convention, and, finally, stopping in here.



Friday, July 9, 2004, Part II

Awhile back I wrote about a fruitless experience on I am happy to report that they've gotten the bugs out, pretty much.

We needed stuff, and we were just too tired and too busy to go to the store. tempted us with a coupon for $15 off $75 or more if we tried again, so I bit.

It worked! First I checked the milk, in the size and quality we usually get, because that's what they didn't have last time. They had it. So happily I went through the list and made an order.

I ordered ice cream, frozen veggies, hamburger, cookies, cereal, soup, and lots more. All at the same prices as the store, mostly items on sale. They even had our personal favorite products lined up on-line for easy selection, from information gleaned from years of using our Club Card. (Big Brother is here and it turns out that he is actually more useful than threatening, so far.) The time spend wandering virtual aisles was about the same as going through the actual store, this first time anyway, but I at least I could do it sitting down with bare feet.

I selected a delivery window of 12:00pm-2:00pm today. The driver showed up at 12:03, with a stack of blue bins on the front porch. He was a friendly, clean-cut young man with excellent communication skills. He explained that a couple of items were out of stock, but other than that, no worries. He then brought the goods into the kitchen. They were in standard plastic grocery bags, too many of them really, as some only contained one small item each. This probably had something to do with their sorting system, I guess.

Only one slight complaint. After he left and I was putting away the canned goods, I noticed a can of pears was pretty bashed in on one side. I never buy dented cans.

But all in all, it was a great experience, and I would do it again if pressed for time, which is often. But I'll do a more complete inventory of the kitchen first. Turns out we needed lettuce, and it wasn't on the shopping list. I'll have to stop by the store again in a day or two anyway. Oh well.


Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Housing Horrors

A small house went up for sale in Seaside last week, just two doors down from ours. It is about the same square footage (800 square feet), and on the same size lot as our own. Less than a year ago our place was appraised at $325,000, which just happens to be in the price range my boss has been looking for. He and his wife want to get out of the rental rat race.

The For Sale sign went up on Monday. On Wednesday I called the real estate agent to inquire further, so I could pass the information on to my boss. I was shocked when the agent said they were asking $475,000. And that was "as is" for a "fixer-upper." On Saturday there was a red SOLD sign on it.

You'd think I'd be happy to hear that news, for it means that we are sitting on our own little gold mine. But rather, I'm frustrated. Housing is not just unaffordable for low income people. It is now out of reach for the middle class, my friends, my co-workers, the people who make everything around here go.

Back in 1956 my parents looked at a two story stone house on Carmel Point, overlooking the south end of Carmel Beach. It was priced at $55,000. That was a lot of money then, to be sure, but in today's dollars that would be about $382,000. Houses on Carmel Point now sell for about fifteen times that.

This all means that a tiny cottage in the cheap seats of Seaside now costs substantially more than a luxury home in a prestigious neighborhood did 50 years ago. Knowing that, I can't understand how some people fail to grasp the seriousness of the affordable housing problem.

Developers argue that they can't build houses any cheaper. However, the cost of building houses has not gone up nearly as much as the value of the land. Our insurance agent says that our house, now allegedly worth nearly half a million dollars, could easily be rebuilt for less than $100,000 if it were lost in a fire.

But elsewere in Seaside, on the former Fort Ord, the government sold surplus land to a developer for far less than market value, where new houses are now being sold at market prices. Someone has made a killing at taxpayer expense.

In the face of this information, the Seaside City Council has rolled over and played dead. They argue that Seaside is tired of being dumped on for the low-income housing and that other peninsula cities need to "share the burden." The flaw in that argument is that those cities are built-out, while Seaside is getting dirt cheap land (with water, yet) where lots and lots of affordable houses could be built. About the only politician standing up to Seaside is Congressman Sam Farr, yet his solo efforts are resisted at every turn.

In short, Seaside isn't helping. Seaside is contributing to the problem.

Monday, July 5, 2004

Unquestionably Debateable

Today I read a newspaper commentary. I will refrain from naming either the author or the paper to spare both from further embarrassment beyond what they have already inflicted upon themselves.

While I tend to be in agreement with many of the author's views (I think), I ended up just laughing. The piece contained this unfathomable sentence in regard to whether underground water is part of a river system or not:

"Without question, this is debatable, but no one has stepped up to spending money to determine if this is wholly true, which it undoubtedly is not."

Down the rabbit hole we go!

Let's take the first five words. He's saying is that the issue is definitely uncertain. I think.

Next, we have a roundabout way of saying "nobody has determined" (Somebody buy this fellow a copy of The Elements of Style!).

Finally if we are not totally lost we arrive at "...if this is wholly true, which it undoubtedly is not." In other words we need to spend money to conclude what he has already concluded, even though he himself does not seem entirely certain of his conclusion. I think.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Stupid Human Trick

Last Sunday night we were driving home via Highway 101. We were just north of Prunedale when suddenly traffic came to a dramatic slowdown. I had to slam the brakes to keep from rear-ending the guy in front, as did the guy in front to keep from hitting the guy ahead of him, and so on.

When I had an opportunity to get into the left lane and pass whatever it was, I was dumbfounded. A medium sized car had a large load of small diameter tree trunks lashed to its roof! [Insert Looney Tunes theme here.] They extended a good eight feet beyond both the front and rear of the car, sagging to block the driver's view. There was no flag or reflector on the rear end to warn vehicles behind.

It doesn't get much stupider than this, folks.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Evolution of the breath mint

I was thinking about Altoids the other day. Those Curiously Strong peppermints in that old-fashioned looking tin. They're everywhere nowdays. They even played a prominent role in the Ken Starr report. (I still want to know how they help.)

Do you remember the days before Altoids?

Tic Tacs were the mint of choice a decade ago. Tic Tacs were introduced sometime in the late '70s I think. They were shaped like the white half of Tylenol, and were just the right size to get stuck in a kid's nose. I know of one case where it actually happened (in this particular case it was an orange one).

Anyway, they came in a little clear plastic container with a flip top lid. They came in all kinds of flavors, but we're talking about mints, so let's get on with it.

People had to deal with bad breath in the late '60s and early '70s, and the Tic Tac hadn't been invented yet. That was the reign of Certs. Certs contained a "sparkling drop of Retsyn, [bling!] to stop bad breath." Today anything called Retsyn probably wouldn't get past the EPA, but circa 1965 it was considered to be the ultimate in anti-halitosis technology. My mom carried Certs in her purse for many years.

A footnote to the Certs story: when I was a kid I had a map of the solar system on my wall. There is a large asteroid between Earth and Mars called Ceres, but its name was in small print, and from my bed it looked like "Certs." I thought it odd to have a breath mint named after an astronomical object (or was it vice-versa?).

Before Certs, there was the humble peppermint Life Savers. I always liked to play with those because they looked like little life preservers. They'd fit in well on the rail of a model boat. 'Cept I didn't have a model boat. My dad was a Life Savers man. Probably because he once had a real boat.

But none of this matters to me because I'm not a big fan of candy mints, unless they're soft and chocolaty.* I read somewhere once a long long time ago that candy mints have just the right combination of ingredients to accelerate tooth decay. Don't know if that's true. Prolly ain't.

I have also heard it said that you should never refuse a breath mint when offered. That may be good advice.

*Addendum: After reading this my sister reminded me of Junior Mints, which I also like. They're soft, but only chocolately on the outside, which is good enough.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Another historic building goes down.

Monterey lost another piece of its history yesterday. The old Southern Pacific freight depot was turned into a pile of splinters, courtesy of the Monterey City Council.

The SP freight depot, which was built in 1915, was the last piece of evidence that Monterey once had a thriving freight railroad system, which enabled the development of local industry. It stood immediately east of the entrance to the Muncipal wharf, near the corner of Figeuroa and Del Monte. It was a long, yellow building on a raised platform. On the street side trucks would unload goods on the dock. On the other side, they would be loaded into boxcars. Or vice versa.

The Monterey City Council had its mind made up several years ago. When the city acquired this plot of land, known as the Catellus property (Catellus being the real estate division of SP), the council's first instinct was to tear everything down to open up views and make a park. A nice enough idea, but there is already ample shoreline parkland in the neighborhood. The Catellus property is unique in that it has two tenants with recreation oriented businesses: Adventures By The Sea and Monterey Bay Kayaks. After lengthy debate the council reluctantly decided they could stay. For now, anyway.

Sparing these businesses effectively negated any view benefits that would be achieved by tearing down the freight depot, because Adventures By The Sea still blocks the view. Yet that continued to be the rationale for demolishing the freight depot.

But first the council's plan still had to be run past the city's Historic Preservation and Planning Commissions. Both of these agencies, after much research and public hearings, recommended that the freight depot be preserved.

The City Council formally thanked these agencies for their work, then ignored it. They argued that there was no practical use for the building, and that it was ugly.

But history was not always pretty. Look at Cannery Row. The freight depot was every bit as significant as the warehouses on Cannery Row, which we have gone to great lengths to preserve. The freight depot gave the Catellus property a historical context and character. As for the alleged fault of being ugly, the buildings that remain are hardly architectural jewels, one being a plain concrete box, the other corrugated metal, and they have no historic significance whatsoever. As for potential uses, it would have been ideal, with minor modification, as a new passenger depot when (not if, for it is inevitible) passenger trains return to Monterey, as is currently being planned.

Monterey takes pride in its privately owned, and state owned historic buildings, yet when it comes to preserving one on city property, a different standard seems to apply.

Monday, June 7, 2004

A visit to Carmel Point

Today on my way home from work, I took a walk around Carmel Point. I haven't had a chance to do that for a long time.

I noticed some whale spouts in the distance. Probably a Blue Whale, which are known to inhabit these waters this time of year.

When I got to the southwest corner of the point, I looked out on my favorite view in the whole wide world. The waves today were quite large and spectacular. They washed up on the crescent beach to form a foamy fan.

This place has always had a special draw for me, something transcendent. I can't describe how it affects me, but whenever I'm here, all is right with the world.

I climbed down to the rocks for a closer look at the ocean. As I watched the waves come in I suddenly became consciously aware of the almighty Spirit behind them. Every drop of water I saw as a spiritual idea, all coordinated in a beautiful thing called a wave. Suddenly everything felt alive, and I felt I was part of this glorious wonder, and it was part of me.

After several minutes I turned around to head back along the beach. I looked back up at Scenic Road, at the sharp bend where it turns east. I saw there an attractive couple. He had curly greying hair, she had long golden hair topped with a straw hat, brightly lit by the early evening sun. The two were standing, embraced in a passionate, lingering kiss, right there on the road. They were a beacon of pure Love illuminating this sacred place.

I got a banjo!

I got my banjo on the 4th. Ordered it from It is a Gold Tone CC100R, and it sounds terrific. I already know one short song called "Bile Dem Cabbage Down."

(Mind you, bile and cabbage are not words I care to associate. Better to say "boil" and let the regional accents sort themselves out.)

I had to  order it on line because when shopping I found hardly anybody in Monterey County sells banjos. Music Unlimited in downtown Monterey only had one 6 string (for guitar players who don't want to migrate to a real 5 string banjo). The stores in Salinas had one expensive Fender between them, plus one electric which wasn't an option.

Sylvia Williams in Seaside had a used Epiphone for $350. But I thought it sounded kinda dull and plunky. She didn't have much banjo knowledge, other than to say "Epiphones are good." Nice lady, but she didn't inspire confidence. I found out later the Epiphone has an aluminum pot instead of a wooden one, hence the plunky sound.

My new Gold Tone is all maple, and has a really nice ring to it. John at was a great help. (I actually ordered over the phone, not on-line, so I could ask a bunch of questions and get direct advice.) Everything arrived in good condition and it was ready to play. After some minor tuning it was ready to go. I love it!


NB: See also this earlier entry: Do I Need a Banjo?

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Where are all the fat people?

Its the biggest news story of the day. Obesity is taking over America. Children are horribly overweight. Porkers are everywhere! 

You just can't see 'em. Believe me, I've looked.

Yeah, statistics show, so they say, that unhealthy fat people are everywhere. And kids, they're all roly-polys. It said so on the news, so it must be true.

So where are they?

Most people look pretty normal to me. Sure there's a fat one here and there, but that has been true throughout history. And that hardly constitutes a widespread epidemic.

Maybe they're all concentrated in the Ozarks or something and that's skewing the statistics for the rest of us. (No offense against Ozarkans intended, I'm just using that as an example.) 

Certainly these statistics don't jibe with another widespread concern that Americans, particularly females, are obsessed with being skinny. I still can't figure out if there are too many skinny women or too many fat people. The reports indicate both are happening at the same time. I do see a lot of skinny women, though. Too skinny to have curves.*

And all of these unhealthy diets must surely be killing people right and left. Yet longevity is at an all time high, or so they say. I'm not sure that's true either. They say that 150 years ago the average person only lived to be about 40. Yet Mark Twain lived to be 70 something. If that was unusual no doubt he would have been an attraction at a circus side show. "See a 70 year old man!"

Anyway, methinks the fat police need a real job.

*Some of them show up on MTV with silicone balloons to pretend they have breasts.

Addendum 6/15/04: My sister, who is one of only two people who actually read this journal, informs me that the fat people are not in the Ozarks after all. They're in Marion County, Oregon.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Pointless politeness

OK, this is sort of a follow up to my pet peeve report of April 19. This is a story about being too polite.

Today I crossed the street again. It was a two-way street. On the left was one small car. On the right was a long stream of cars. Who stopped? The one car on the left.

Did any of the cars on the right stop?


Having no hope of crossing immediately, I waved the guy on the left through, but he insisted on waiting patiently. When the right was clear, he was still there, waving me across. He didn't need to do that. It didn't make my day any easier, nor his. It was pointless politeness.

Memorial Day Madness

Living in a tourist town has its plusses, but holidays are not among them. I'm working today, and getting to work was no fun at all. Traffic jams are everywhere, making me even later than I usually am.

I don't know what would posess so many people to want to be in the same place at once. All on the same streets, all wanting to go to the same waterfront attractions, only to find the parking lots full, the beaches clogged, and not enough seating at the restaurants to handle all of these hot, cranky, hungry people.

If the point is to have fun, it ain't happening anywhere I can see. Better to stay home and come back when things calm down.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

What's with CHOMP?

Two items have come to my attention that have called into question the reputation of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), the only hospital on the Monterey Peninsula.

The first was a news item earlier this week about the helicopter ambulance service called CALSTAR. Evidently Calstar was working with local police and fire departments to practice landings around the Monterey Peninsula, doing several drills in the coming days.

This piqued my interest because I was listening to the police scanner recently and heard that a CALSTAR helicopter needed to land on the football field at Monterey Peninsula College to handle a trauma patient involved in an accident on Highway 1. I found this odd because CHOMP is barely a mile up the highway from the accident scene. In fact the football field was probably no closer. Why did they need the helicopter?

The news story about the CALSTAR training gave the answer. CHOMP is no longer accepting trauma patients. They now have to be flown to the San Jose area. However, the article concluded that CHOMP would continue to handle trauma cases "in an emergency." (I guess that means not all trauma cases are emergencies. Down the rabbit hole we go!)

The second item that caused me concern involved a co-worker who's wife is expecting twins. He didn't make it to work today because she may have gone into labor six weeks early. If that was the case, they would have to go all the way to San Francisco to deliver. San Francisco??? That's almost three hours away for crine out loud. Why put them through that at a time like this?

So what gives? CHOMP has been expanding like mad the last several years. In their advertising they repeatedly boast about their state of the art facilities. So exactly what are they doing with all that extra space and high tech stuff that they can't handle basic emergencies like premature births and accident victims anymore?

Monday, May 24, 2004

Popular trends that I hope will go away soon

Reality TV.
Now there's an oxymoron for you.

Shouting news commentators.
Talking louder does not make their points any more valid.

Breast implants.
Who wants to look at a naked girl with carnival balloons on her chest?

Electronically enhanced vocals of female pop stars.
Can't their voices stand on their own?

Corporate control of local radio stations.
Bring back the local DJ!

New, but definitely not improved.

Low carbs.
Diet fads come and go, but diet gurus will be with us forever.

Self-appointed food police.
Moderation, not elimination, is the key.

One-party control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
Neither party is worthy of being in total control. Checks and balances, people!

Liberal bashing.
Liberals are not the enemy.

Conservative bashing.
Real conservatives are nice people. (Neoconservative bashing is OK, 'cuz they haven't actually accomplished anything.)

Imitation Rob Lowe hairstyles.
The harried businessman look was never in.

Overreaction to a bare breast on TV.
Only a mental boob would be threatened by a woman's boob. 

"John 3:16" signs at football games.
Nice verse, been done to death. How about some of the other fine Bible verses?

The "liberal media" myth.
Who was it that jumped on the Clinton/Monica affair with glee?

The main cause of high gas prices. This is junior high economics, supply and demand.

My Favorite Customer

Many years ago when I was working in the hardware department at Brinton's in Carmel, I was approached by a customer. He was a rather frantic looking fellow, a yuppie type, who was asking about doormats. He said his decorator told him to get one made of some material I had never heard of.

I showed him our selection, which was fairly large and diverse, and made a few suggestions. Throughout our discussion he kept asking me if his decorator would approve of this one or that. After about the fourth time I said "The important thing is to get something you can be happy with."

He looked up at me and said "Really?" 

I nodded.

He then looked at the mat in front of him, decided it was acceptable, and took it to the cashier.

Sunday, May 16, 2004 came to town recently. On-line grocery shopping is now a reality on the Monterey Peninsula. We've been looking forward to this for some time, and it finally opened up early this month.

We tried it out last week when we were pretty busy and kinda tired and didn't want to go to the store.

So we signed up and we were on our way, happily adding stuff to our virtual grocery cart. Then reality sank in. It was taking quite awhile. Then the browser crashed. To Safeway's credit, they held the contents of our cart when we signed on again. So I added more stuff.

Then I got to the dairy case. All I wanted was two gallons of 1% milk. Or 2% would be fine. We always get the two gallons for a discount deal. But they didn't have it on line. If we wanted gallons all we could get was whole milk, and no two-fer deals. In 1% and 2% all they listed were half gallons. 

Game over.

I had to go to the store after all. When I got there I realized that many of the things I shopped for on line were cheaper in person, even though they deliver from the very store I was in. They say prices are supposed to be the same, but they clearly weren't. For example, Safeway Select pure maple syrup was a full 50 cents more on line. 

When I returned home I sent an e-mail to complaining about my difficulties.

They never replied.

Great idea. Lousy service. That's!

Maybe I'll try again in a few months and hopefully they'll have the bugs out.

Addendum: I finally got a response from Safeway on the 20th. They explained that prices in the store where the actual groceries come from may vary from what is shown on-line, and that the local price will be charged. So how am I supposed to know what the final cost will be?

A footnote to this story:

One of the things I bought was apple cider. They had a two for one deal on Safeway brand apple cider. Same with apple juice. We usually get the juice, but this time they were out, so I picked up the cider.

What's the difference between apple juice and apple cider? According to my dictionary, nothing!  

The cider tastes the same. So I wondered what on earth justified the different label. The answer was in the nutrition facts. The cider has no vitamins. None. Zilch. The juice has 120% of one's daily dose of vitamin C, so its a much better buy. They're both the same price, so why do they even bother with this cider nonsense?

A footnote to the footnote:

Speaking of apple cider, have you tried Dicken Cider?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


A pair of warbirds came to town yesterday. One was the only B-24 Liberator still in flyable condition. The other was a B-17 Flying Fortress, one of only a handful still functioning.

These WWII bombers are amazing machines. I wasn't able to see them up close before they departed, though I was able to crawl through them on a previous visit. However, since I live just a mile from the Monterey airport, I was able to enjoy seeing them in flight.

These planes are not large by today's standards, being roughly the size of a Boeing 737 airliner, yet they are visually imposing. They are grand machines that helped end the worst war the world has ever seen.

It is an honor to watch these birds still flying. It is equally impressive to hear them. There is nothing like sound of four radial piston engines working together to take a bomber into the air. It's not quite a growl, it's not quite a rumble, but it's a little of both. It can be heard for some distance, but it is not particularly loud. It is rather reassuring, soothing, even.

If you ever have a chance to see one, do not hesitate to go. If you can't get to the display, and you see one overhead, be sure to stop, look, listen, and think about what they and their crews did for us 60 years ago.

Friday, May 7, 2004

How many more ways can we screw this up?

The Iraq war has been a series of miscalculations and bungled opportunities.
-Callous dismissal of world opinion before the war. 
-Erroneous "intelligence" on the weapons of mass destruction. 
-The belief that Iraqi oil would pay for reconstruction, at little or no cost to the American taxpayer.
-Inadequate forces to control looting after the fall of Saddam.
-Inadequate civil control which gave terrorists a foothold in Iraq, where none existed before.

-Shutting down a newspaper, in violation of our own principles of a free press, that sparked an uprising.
-Ignoring the festering Fallujah until it exploded.

And now....

 This week the $#!^ has really hit the fan. What were those prison guards thinking? They not only abused Iraqi prisoners, they photographed their own crimes that showed then gloating over their idiocy.

How many more ways can we screw this up?

Bush took a huge gamble by invading Iraq in the first place. Failure would end up making things far worse than before, yet a year later we still have no certainty of success. Success requires competent execution, not just good intentions.

Yet incompetence abounds. The guards in charge of the prison were not trained for such work. There were too few of them for the size of the prison population, and there was no external oversight. Such incompetence wasn't the result of the few bad apples actually in the prison. It goes right up the chain of command to Dummy Rummy and to President Shrub himself. They made bad decisions that allowed this to occur. Resources were spread thin, and the result was that improperly trained soldiers were put in charge of prisoners.

Now the right-wing-nut apologists are out in force, some saying that nothing the American guards did was as bad as what Saddam did every day. That may be true, but that's not the point. The point is that Americans don't do that sort of thing. Ever. It is wrong. We are not supposed to be merely less bad than Saddam. We are supposed to be the good guys, a shining example of freedom, democracy, and apple pie. But today our reputation, which was already suffering, is further tarnished, thanks to Bush and his gang of gung-ho bumblers.

It is time for them to go. We can start with Dummy Rummy today. Unfortunately, Bush will have to wait until November.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Insincere Sinclair


I read the news today, oh boy.  It reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group censored the April 30th  Nightline on ABC affiliated TV stations it owns. On that night Ted Koppel read the names of all the Americans who had been killed to date in Iraq. Sinclair didn’t like that on the grounds that Koppel, in the opinion of Sinclair management, was pushing an anti-war agenda.


So much for freedom of the press.


In a statement on the front page of their website, Sinclair justified its action by saying:
Mr. Koppel and "Nightline" are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.


“We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorist attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001.”


I have no desire to question Ted Koppel. His motivations are not my concern. Rather I am disturbed that Sinclair thinks it knows what its customers should or shouldn’t watch.


Sinclair argues that Nighline was only presenting part of the story and therefore was misleading people. This argument only holds up if you assume that Nightline was a one-time program, not a nightly news report that covers Iraq routinely, and that no other information on Iraq is available. Ironically, Sinclair engaged in the same sort of behavior they accuse Nightline of: withhlding information. Clearly, Sinclair thinks the Nightline audience is easily manipulated, or just too stupid to make up their own minds.


Koppel was simply presenting a raw truth, without further comment, to make the public aware of the human cost of the Iraq war. It is then up to the public, not Sinclair, to decide if the war is worth the cost. Evidently Sinclair doesn’t trust the public’s judgment. Best to keep the public ignorant because actual facts might change ignorant people’s minds, as truth often does.


Sinclair also asks why Koppel didn’t read the names of Americans killed in terrorist attacks, “since and including” September 11, 2001. There are two  reasons. First, that has already been done. On the first anniversary of 9/11 the names of the victims were read at a public ceremony which was carried live on national television. Second, and let’s be clear on this, Koppel’s, report was about Iraq. Iraq was not involved in any terrorist attacks on Americans. (Saddam was helping to fund Palestinian terrorists in Israel, which certainly justified his removal, but that's a topic for another day.)


In an even more disingenuous argument, Sinclair said:

“Based on published reports, we are aware of the spouse of one soldier who died in Iraq who opposes the reading of her husband's name to oppose our military action. We suspect she is not alone in this viewpoint.”


One soldier’s widow does not constitute a consensus, though they would have us so believe. They read a couple of second-hand reports indicating that one widow didn’t like Nightline’s idea. Sinclair then extrapolated that into several widows, and then out of some false gesture of sensitivity, decided Nightline was too much for the public to handle.


Just how much lower can their opinion of the public go?


Sinclair was engaging in censorship, pure and simple. The only motivation for censorship is to squelch ideas that are contrary to opinions held by those who have power. So they pull the plug, but in the process they show their own weakness. By censoring Nightline they are admitting that their own views are not strong enough to stand up to a few challenges.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Retirement Planning

They say you should start planning early for your retirement. So, while I’m only 44 I’m weighing my options now. I can’t decide if I want to be a Dirty Old Man or a Cranky Old Fart. I can see advantages and disadvantages to both of these, but I don't think I can be both.


The DOM option fits in with my lifelong appreciation of feminine beauty. One can’t continue looking at pretty young women at age 70 without being thought of as a DOM. And if I’m perceived that way, I might as well live the part. The disadvantage here is that the only really successful DO Men are the ridiculously rich ones. Wealth is the only real attraction a DOM has. That means I’ll have to do some serious financial planning, something I’m not too good at.


The COF option has its merits. A COF can say pretty much what he wants whenever he wants to, which is appealing because I like to speak my mind. People will just dismiss my comments by saying “Don’t mind him, he’s old.” I’ll also be able to get away with not practicing whatever political correctness will be in vogue circa 2035. When I make a social faux pas, which for me is likely to occur with some regularity, people will excuse it because I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “In his day people didn’t know how to be sensitive” they’ll say, and I’ll get away with saying whatever I please because I’m old. Unfortunately COFs don’t usually have many friends in their final days.


So, alas, I’ll probably end up being that sweet old man who lives in that cute little house with his sweet old wife he’s been devoted to 60years. That, I’m afraid, is my apparent destiny.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Bush vs Kerry

I was a supporter of John Kerry before it was fashionable, when Howard Dean was the alleged "front runner." That was before people actually voted.


Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. I am not a Democrat. Nor am I a Republican. I am a former Republican, registered independent. I think for myself, thank you. Republicans generally don't encourage that sort of behavior anymore. Just ask John McCain.


This election is supposedly about which candidate is strongest, particularly on national defense. In this regard popular punditry (the same process that anointed Howard Dean) declares Bush as the stronger candidate. That in itself is questionable, but not really important because this election is not about strength. It is about wisdom.


Bush often has the right idea. Invading Afghanistan after 9/11 was the right idea, and was reasonably well executed. I fully supported the President during this campaign. Removing Saddam was a good idea in theory, but poorly executed. Not only was the premise wrong, there were no WMD (as UN inspectors already discovered), it drained resources from fighting the real enemy that actually did attack us, and is continuing to attack innocent people all over the world.


Bush comes on strong with talk about good vs evil, right vs wrong, etc. It is comforting, as far as it goes, but he lacks depth. His thought process is two-dimensional, linear. If X happens, then Y will automatically follow, regardless of what word you're trying to spell. But since his opinions cannot be altered no matter what, he is thought of as a strong, decisive leader.


Kerry has earned a reputation in the Senate as someone who digs into issues to understand their intricacies. He has a curious mind and his knowledge of the issues has considerable depth as well as breadth. He likes to get all sides of a story, and consider all possible consequences before taking action. Furthermore, Kerry is not afraid to change his mind when new information comes to light. For this Kerry is accused of being inconsistent, a flip-flopper, someone who can’t be trusted.


I have watched John Kerry on C-SPAN many times, and I am always impressed with his comprehensive grasp of the issues. During the primaries he stood out from the pack as the most thoughtful candidate. He is especially strong in his understanding of foreign policy, which is essential at this time in history. He is not a perfect man, but he is a prudent man who will make wise choices based on the big picture instead of a narrow ideology. That is why I support John Kerry for President.