Friday, October 20, 2017

A Broken System in Garland

With a 6-3 vote, the Garland City Council approved a motion to demolish a National Guard armory to build a dog and skate park. Mayor Douglas Athas was on the losing side of that vote and afterward announced his intention to resign. If you believe the mayor, it was all about a failure of process, a breakdown in how things are supposed to happen in government.
"We have checks and balances in our system. Professionals on staff make recommendations, we have peer review and then it comes to council for final decisions," he said. "When you skip that, when a council comes up with its own ideas and suddenly starts doing it without professionals, without peer reviews, then you have a system that's broken and extremely dangerous."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

POTD: Sunset Over the Gulf

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day comes from the Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico. It also brings an end to the photos-of-the-day from our cruise of the Western Caribbean out of Galveston. Big sigh.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017): Surprisingly modern threesome in 1920s. At times creepy but mostly normal. Deftly handled. B+

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

POTD: Jamaica Highlands

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Jamaica highlands south of the port of Falmouth. Jamaica is big and so much more than beaches. Our destination was the Good Hope plantation and great house, once a sugar plantation owned by John Tharp, the island's largest slaveowner. Now it's a place where tourists can enjoy afternoon tea without being discomfited by any of that unpleasant history. </sarcasm>

Bonus photos after the jump.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)

The Meyerowitz Stories (2017): Three adults deal with ailing father and each other. All star cast. Great characters. Real but still fun. B-

Friday, October 13, 2017

POTD: Falmouth Port Taxi Service Rate Sheet

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Royal Caribbean cruise ship port in Falmouth, Jamaica. There's nothing special about the rate sheet, other than the fact that I had a hard time finding this information before visiting Jamaica myself. In the end, we booked a bus ride to Montego Bay onboard our ship. But if this post helps someone else get around the island from Falmouth without booking through the cruise line, then everything cook and curry. Let me know.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Long and oppressive. Gratuitous nudity. A touch of woo woo. Rain, snow and smog in LA create great atmosphere. C+

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

POTD: Catch of the Day

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the sea shore in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. It's next door to a restaurant on the shore that features the catch on display here.

Not to get all philosophical here, but this POTD follows the previous POTD from Dolphin Discovery. I didn't feel at all uncomfortable seeing a table full of dead fish, unlike my guilty conscience seeing a pond (lagoon? pool? tank?) full of captive seemingly healthy, active dolphins. Why is that?

Bonus photo after the jump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Journey to Greenland (2016)

Journey to Greenland (2016): French. Two Frenchmen visit an Inuit village. Great setting. Would work better as documentary than drama. C-

Monday, October 9, 2017

POTD: Dolphin Discovery

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Dolphin Discovery in Cayman Islands. I don't know what to call it — an outdoor aquarium, an amusement park, a prison for animals? The park itself tries hard to emphasize its ecological bona fides ("The only one that loves dolphins more than you is Dolphin Discovery"). On the other hand, not everyone agrees that things are so good.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Red Turtle (2016)

The Red Turtle (2016): Shipwrecked on tropical island, just a man and a red turtle. Animation. No dialog. Simple, lovely, elegant fable. B+

Thursday, October 5, 2017

OTBR: Rock Lake, Minnesota

Latitude: N 46° 10.482
Longitude: W 093° 53.832

A child on a road trip with his family asks, "Where are we?" and the father answers, "Let's check the map. We're off the blue roads [the Interstate Highways marked in blue on the road atlas]. We're off the red roads [the US and state highways]. We're off the black roads [the county highways]. I think we're off the map altogether." It was always my dream to be off the map altogether.

After the jump, a few of the random places (and I mean random literally) that I visited vicariously (not actually) last month that are "off the blue roads".

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Restaurant Ratings - The Good and the Bad

I've long urged the City of Richardson to improve the usability of the work done by its Health Department in inspecting restaurants. They can get back in the kitchen. The public usually can't.

Things I'd like to see:
  • The health department rating displayed in each restaurant's front window. To its credit, the city has worked with Yelp to display a city health department rating for each restaurant along with other info such as address, map, and contact info. Kudos for this, but I'd like to see the rating when I walk in the door.
  • Inspection ratings incorporated in all promotional material the city provides for restaurants (e.g., its "Dine Smart, Dine Local" advertising)
  • A better presentation of the health inspection ratings on the city's own website
Recently, the city made some efforts on the third item. I took a look.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Battle of the Sexes (2017): Feminist icon for more than a tennis match. My admiration grows seeing the back story. #EqualPay #Equality A-

Monday, October 2, 2017

Repeat Tweets: San Francisco Hits 104°

Repeat tweets from September, 2017:

  • Sep 1 2017: "San Francisco hits 104°, breaking the city's all-time heat record, NWS says."
    Just throwing this out there, but maybe we ought to again consider the possibility that burning fossil fuels is changing the climate.
  • Sep 1 2017: RT @WalkableDFW: "car dependence makes our regional economy incredibly fragile."
    So does corn, the power grid, and our supply chains for just about everything. We are one disaster away from, well, disaster.
  • Sep 1 2017: RT @WalkableDFW: "which is why localized food and power production is mission critical."
    Choices. Localized food brings its own costs. 200 years of reducing cost thru comparative advantage and the globe is in precarious balance.
  • Sep 1 2017: Infinite Jest: 20-yr-old classic that takes 20 years to read. Great book...for literature majors. I'm too hard; there are hidden gems. C-

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Friday, September 29, 2017

POTD: An Angel in Hell

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Devils Hangout Gift Shop in Hell, Cayman Islands. The name comes from cooled lava flows visible from the parking lot of the gift shop that must have reminded some early tourism promoter of burnt-out hellfire. That's an angel posing in front of the gift shop. Awww.

Bonus photo after the jump.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Hologram for the King (2016)

Hologram for the King (2016): US IT salesman has midlife crisis in Saudi Arabia. Starts exotic, ends preposterous. No reason to care. C+

One of those rare movies based on a book (reviewed here) that matches it in quality — in this case, mediocre.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

POTD: Little Boxes

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the cruise ship pier at Cozumel, Mexico. I'd name the ship, but they all look just the same.

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tanna (2015)

Tanna (2015): Tribal conflict on South Pacific island. Arranged marriage vs forbidden love. Universal tale based on true story. Lovely. A-

Monday, September 25, 2017

Regionalism and Sprawl

I am constantly adding to my collection of dirty words. These are the motherhood and apple pie virtues that I used to think were non-controversial. Virtues like tolerance and compromise and civility all have come under attack from conservatives. What I thought made American democracy great is being dismantled virtuous brick by virtuous brick. Liberals can play this game, too. Self-described "libtard" Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer adds "regionalism" to the list of dirty words. Schutze equates regionalism with sprawl. Sprawl is bad, so regionalism must be too.
the leadership of [Dallas] is so evenly divided between the old-school champions of sprawl, which they call regionalism, and the new-school champions of cityhood.
During the old establishment's 20-year war for [the Trinity Tollroad], the main justification for it was that it would promote regionalism. By offering regionalism as a selling point, the old guard betrayed its utter unawareness that people on the other side of the paradigm think regionalism is the problem. And there you have it.
Source: Jim Schutze.

Friday, September 22, 2017

POTD: Playa del Carmen Beach

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the beach at Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula. This seems a fitting photo for the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere. As the days grow shorter and colder, it's good to remember that in the Tropics, it's always summer.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

mother! (2017)

mother! (2017): Stimulating blend of religious myths. Most intense episode of Fixer-Upper ever. Writer's block is a bitch for the muse. A-

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Toni Erdmann (2016): German. Eccentric father inserts himself into daughter's business. Quirky at times. Original symbolism. Let's talk. B+

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

POTD: Cenote Multun-Ha

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Multun-Ha cenote on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Multun-Ha cenote is a cave with water. Think of a sinkhole where the roof has not collapsed. There's no sunlight. There's no outside sound. The water is clear and cool. It's a refreshing escape from the Yucatan's hot sun above.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Monday, September 18, 2017

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016) is one of Yayoi Kusama's signature Infinity Mirror Rooms. It was recently acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art. Believe it or not, it's a thing. The DMA will charge non-members $16 for a special exhibition ticket, which permits the holder to 45 seconds in the infinity mirror room. That's right — 45 seconds. It's easy to make fun of this new artwork because of that, but taken all by itself, without the ridiculous price, it is kind of a cool thing to experience. It certainly would be if you just stumbled on it without any advance hype. Heck, the title alone is interesting. Anyway, I liked it. #KusamaPumpkins

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Translation: Berkner's Homecoming (theme: "Glowcoming") For-the-Win.

The Berkner Rams won their Homecoming game against the Garland Owls 35-16 Friday night. Excitement came on the last play of the first half as the Rams stopped the Owls on a fourth-and-goal from the one yard line to preserve a 21-0 halftime lead. After stretching the lead to 28-0 in the third quarter, the Rams held on to win 35-16.

More photos from the game are after the jump.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (2016): Seven Samurai > 1960 version >> Three Amigos > 2017 version. And McQueen>>Pratt. No reason for this remake. C+

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro (2016): James Baldwin tells story of America through the lives of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin. Unresolved still today. A-

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Handsome (2017)

Handsome (2017): Comedy detective tale. Quirky, maybe a little. Funny, not really. Mystery, not that either. Really nothing here. C-

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

POTD: Ixmoja

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the ancient Mayan city of Coba on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. The largest pyramid at Coba is Ixmoja, standing 138 feet (42 meters) tall. It's 40 feet taller than the better known and much more visited El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza. Unlike Chichen Itza, this pyramid can still be climbed by random tourists. The steep 120 step climb is worth the view of the jungle canopy that you get from the top. Then you can crab walk your way back down.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Richardson Needs More Apartments

Richardson needs more apartments. Or at least, more low-income housing, which tends to be multi-family. Instead, the multi-family housing that is going up all over Richardson is not affordable for many of the workers needed to support Richardson's boom.

Richardson's City Council has withstood the opposition to new apartments, but only to a point. Even the Richardson City Council won't address the elephant in the room — the lack of low-income housing. The result: restaurants in booming developments like CityLine are having trouble finding workers. Those employed at, say, State Farm and Raytheon can afford to live in all the new upscale apartments at CityLine. Those employed in CityLine's restaurants cannot.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Friday Night Lights are Bright Again

It's September, it's Friday night, and that means high school football. The Berkner Rams had their home season opener spoiled by the Naaman Forest Rangers 20-14 at Wildcat-Ram Stadium.

More photos from the game are after the jump.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Ingrid Goes West (2017): Expected a comedy. Got a portrait of a sad stalker who wants a friend. Needs some Aubrey Plaza quirkiness. C+

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Local Property Taxes Carry More of the Load

School districts made a big pitch during the recent Texas legislative session for more state funding for public schools. The pitch's argument often went something like this: if homeowners don't like their property taxes always going up, it's because the amount the state chips in is always going down.
"More and more of the burden for financing our schools is ending up on the backs of our local taxpayers," said Richardson ISD School Board President Justin Bono. "They're finding other priorities for it. We wish and try to press that public education should be a priority." Bono says the state used to provide 50 percent of a district's funding just less than 10 years ago. By next year, the state's funding will only account for a mere 20 percent of the district's revenue.
Source: Fox 4 News.
On its face, that sounds like it should be an effective argument. Effective, meaning persuasive to reasonable politicians in Austin, who might not have been aware that more and more funding for schools is coming from local property taxes. Then I read something in Vox that opened my eyes.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

OTBR: Prairie Dog in Boulder

Latitude: N 40° 02.328
Longitude: W 105° 14.298

A child on a road trip with his family asks, "Where are we?" and the father answers, "Let's check the map. We're off the blue roads [the Interstate Highways marked in blue on the road atlas]. We're off the red roads [the US and state highways]. We're off the black roads [the county highways]. I think we're off the map altogether." It was always my dream to be off the map altogether.

After the jump, a few of the random places (and I mean random literally) that I visited vicariously (not actually) last month that are "off the blue roads".

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Single Member Districts are not the Way to Diversity

Single member districts are not the way to diversity. Maybe elsewhere, with different geography and demographics, but not in the Richardson ISD, anyway. Carol Toler of the Lake Highlands Advocate has been asking RISD trustees (current and former) about RISD adopting single member districts. Toler first raised the issue in an interview with new RISD board president Justin Bono. Bono responded reasonably in my opinion:
I don’t know that single member districts would accomplish what proponents want or make a board more effective, just given how our district is laid out. Our board would welcome a more diverse pool of candidates and colleagues, and we’re focused on getting more diversity on strategic planning committees, diversity of backgrounds and geography as well, so that there is a greater pool of potential board candidates. Ultimately, it has to be the right time for any candidate to step into board service.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Repeat Tweets: Vote First. Hearings Later

Repeat tweets from August, 2017:

  • Aug 1 2017: RT @ericawerner: "Cornyn on the floor acknowledging any path forward on health care will have to be bipartisan."
    That's our Texas Senator acknowledging what should have been obvious, what was the right thing to do, all along. What a waste.
  • Aug 1 2017: RT @TopherSpiro: "NEWS: Bipartisan hearings to draft stabilization legislation. Testimony from patients, Governors, and experts."
    Vote first. Hearings later. Not the way I remember "How a Bill Becomes a Law" but better late than never.
  • Aug 2 2017: The Girl on the Train (2016): Psychological mystery borrows heavily from Rear Window and Gaslight. Well-crafted if maybe too predictable. B-
  • Aug 3 2017: RT @costareports: "Secret Service vacates Trump Tower command post in lease dispute with president's company."
    Because of course.
  • Aug 4 2017: Trump heads govt (Secret Service). Trump owns Trump Tower. But great negotiator can't get a lease done between 2?
  • Aug 4 2017: "Russell Barlow, Jr Commits to TCU Hoops."
    It's a great time to be a Ram. @BerknerBB #txhshoops

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest
From Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace:
Open quote 

A woman at U. Cal-Irvine had earned tenure with an essay arguing that the reason-versus-no-reason debate about what was unentertaining in Himself's work illuminated the central conundra of millennial après-garde film, most of which, in the teleputer age of home-only entertainment, involved the question why so much aesthetically ambitious film was so boring and why so much shitty reductive commercial entertainment was so much fun. The essay was turgid to the point of being unreadable, besides using reference as a verb and pluralizing conundrum as conundra."

I finished "Infinite Jest." The novel that sold a million copies since publication twenty years ago; the novel that's on almost every list of best novels of the twentieth century; the thousand-page novel that I bet hardly anyone ever actually finishes reading; the novel whose sentences go on even longer than this sentence of mine; you know, that novel. I finished it. I finished it. I deserve some recognition for that. Or punishment. I don't know which.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

POTD: Ball Court of Coba

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the ancient Mayan city of Coba on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It shows the ball court. The object of the game was to maneuver a ball, without using your hands, through the stone hoop attached to the side wall of the court. The rules of the game are in dispute (kind of like American football) but that doesn't stop archaeologists from deducing that the losers of the game (or sometimes the winners) were ritually sacrificed (kind of like American politics).

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sand Storm (2016)

Sand Storm (2016): Girl meets boy. Dad objects and arranges a different marriage. Then dad brings home a second wife. Age-old story. B+

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

POTD: Abandoned City of Coba

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the ancient Mayan city of Coba on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It was a huge city but the jungle has mostly reclaimed it.

Bonus photos after the jump.

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lo and Behold (2016)

Lo and Behold (2016): History & future of the Internet. Some topics are promising (AI), some scary (solar flares), some badly misjudged. C+

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016): War in Iraq. Pro football in Dallas. A study of PTSD. Flat acting. Clichéd characters. Watchable. C+

As is usually the case, the movie is not as good as the book, which was reviewed here in 2013.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Magnet Schools vs Neighborhood Schools

Five years ago, I blogged about magnet schools — their purpose and their effect. I think it holds up well, in that I had questions about the purpose and effect of magnet schools in Richardson that I couldn't answer then and I still can't answer today. I don't believe there has been adequate public discussion. It's time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

POTD: D'Amico

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Galveston Bay, the entrance to the busy Houston Ship Channel, ranked first in the United States in foreign waterborne tonnage; first in U.S. imports; and first in U.S. export tonnage.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Local, State, Nation: Same Story

Recently, I posted a graph showing Richardson ISD schools' academic ranking plotted against the percentage of students they have on the free and reduced lunch program. As I expected it showed a correlation — as socio-economic status drops, so too does academic ranking.
Today I want to look at state and national data.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky (2017): Redneck Oceans 11, where NASCAR not Vegas is the target. Decent fun if you bring enough suspension of disbelief. B-

Monday, August 21, 2017

Local Evidence that Demography is Destiny

When looking at school performance numbers, I fell back on a story of demographics to explain why the Richardson ISD has some of the highest performing schools in the state *and* some of the lowest performing. Same school district. Same policies. Same curriculum. Same central administration. But widely differing results. Different demographics, I said.

I was confident my story wasn't a fairy tale, but I didn't bother backing it up with more than just a couple of quick data points. I believe that it's a good personal habit to challenge one's own preconceptions now and then. Because sometimes I'm wrong. (I know. Hard to believe.) So I did my homework.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Transforming Fashion

It's the last weekend to catch the Dallas Museum of Art's exhibit Tranforming Fashion featuring designs by Iris van Herpen. These dresses are bold, sure, but I just can't see them "transforming fashion." No woman is going to be wearing anything that looks like any of these dresses. Sci-fi aliens, on the other hand, maybe. High fashion will probably come to use the technology van Herpen used, like 3-D printing, but it will be put to more practical styles than seen here. It's still great fun.

Coincidentally, Season 16 of Project Runway premiered this week. I have to admit, it's my guilty pleasure. I haven't picked a favorite this season yet, but I'm forever on Team Mondo.

A bonus photo is after the jump.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Oh, Hello on Broadway (2017)

Oh, Hello on Broadway (2017): Comic duo plays two old NY friends. Mix of skits and standup. Relentlessly paced, eventually tiresome. C-

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

The Incredible Jessica James (2017): Aspiring playwright after a breakup. Works with kids. She's complicated. Light, fun, believable. B-

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

War Machine (2017)

War Machine (2017): Afghanistan war. Mash of history, satire, tragedy. Brad Pitt is miscast. Mannerisms more Forrest Gump than general. B-

Monday, August 14, 2017

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

It's August and that means it's time for Richardson budget roulette. Will the proposed city budget be balanced? You'd think that would be a simple question. Isn't the city required by law to have a balanced budget? Well, yes, but it all depends on the meaning of "balanced".

Last year when I looked at this question, I concluded that the city's 2016-2017 budget was indeed balanced and didn't require use of that sneaky asterisk ("plus reserved fund balance and other financing sources").

After the jump, reviewing that conclusion and looking ahead at 2017-2018.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick (2017): Mixed-culture romcom. Tension between him, her and their families. Laughs, tears, and straight drama. Great acting. B+

Thursday, August 10, 2017

POTD: Idle Oil Rigs

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Galveston Channel in Texas, where oil drilling rigs stand idle due to the prolonged slump in oil and gas prices.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Every Number Tells a Story

It's almost back-to-school time. So let's look at the Richardson ISD by the numbers. Specifically, the numbers from "K-12 school performance data at your fingertips." RISD's overall numbers can tell any story you want.

"Steady as she goes": RISD consistently ranks in the top half of all school districts in Texas.

"Sound the alarm": RISD dropped from the 86th percentile in 2010 to the 56th percentile in 2015.

"Back on Course": RISD climbed from 56th percentile in 2015 to 72nd percentile in 2017.

So have at it. What's your story?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

POTD: Ready to Cast Off

From 2017 01 29 Caribbean Cruise

Today's photo-of-the-day is of the cruise ship terminal in Galveston, Texas.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017): Lots of action. Nameless, interchangeable characters. Little dialog or historical context. But powerful climactic scene. B+