Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Ultimate Solution to Gridlock is Car-Free

The road crisis in north Texas has been building for years. The latest to weigh in on the looming disaster is Bill Baumbach in "The Collin County Observer":

"If nothing is done, our citizens will live in continual traffic gridlock, and our air quality will worsen. Our continued growth will stall if we do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure to sustain that growth. We simply will not be able to attract major corporations, if their employees can not get to work."
The alternatives aren't between gridlock and pouring more and more concrete. Read "LIVING CAR-FREE IN BIG D" for some better alternatives to both:
"A Sometimes Semi-Serious Slant and other Ruminations on Urban Design, Architecture, Sustainability, Ecolonomics, and the Way of the World or How I Learned to Stop Driving and Love the Walk... in my adopted home of Dallas, Texas."
It's time for some fresh thinking. It's not the Seventies anymore. Or the Nineties. Or, for that matter, the Noughts. The Noughties? The Aughts? The Noughty-Aughts? The Zeroes? The Big Zero? OK, just what are we going to call the '00s?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twitter Reviews of 2009

My Twitter takes on the books, movies, and theatre I enjoyed in 2009. The list is short because I didn't join Twitter until August.

(There. Just 131 characters. After the jump, the reviews.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas 2009

Christmas Day, 2009
From Flowers
A Christmas Eve snowfall graced Richardson, Texas, with its first white Christmas in ... I don't know how long. The National Weather Service claims it's the first since 1926. Could be. Merry Christmas, y'all.

To see more photos, look here.
Family portraits can be seen here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

32nd Annual Dallas Tuba Christmas

Jeff King, guest conductor of Tuba Christmas
From 2009 12 Tuba Christmas
"Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these musicians from the swift completion of their appointed songs."

With apologies to the postal service, this motto just seems to go with the 32nd Annual Dallas Tuba Christmas concert. Normally held outdoors at Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas at noon on Christmas Eve, this year's concert was moved indoors because of inclement weather. Windy, rainy and cold outside, it was warm, dry and cozy inside the underground Dallas pedestrian tunnels where 150 musicians with tubas and euphoniums and related instruments gathered to play Christmas carols to a friendly audience in the holiday spirit. If you think 150 tubas can make a joyful noise outdoors, just wait until you hear them indoors in a small room. Joy to the world!

More photos can be seen here.


You've seen this movie before. Evil mining company wants gold ore beneath peaceful Indian village and uses the cavalry to massacre the Indians to get it. You haven't seen this movie before. The Indians are blue. The horses have wings. The cavalry fly helicopter gunships. Avatar, equal parts Star Wars, Little Big Man, Tarzan, Apocalypse Now, breaks no new ground in subject matter, plot, and character development, ... you know, the things that make a story great. Where it does break new ground is in CGI techniques. Through the use of "performance capture" cameras, the movie gives extraterrestrial humanoids the most realistic facial expressions any movie has achieved.

Are we there yet? Can we use technology to create any illusion we want on the big screen? Probably not. When less-advanced technology was used in movies like "The Polar Express" the human characters looked creepy and zombie-like. Avatar technology is undoubtedly better, but it's no coincidence that Avatar is still science fantasy and not a historical epic. Blue aliens are not human, so failings of the CGI techniques are more easily overlooked. Only when this technique is used to bring a real historical figure to the screen, one that the audience is intimately familiar with, and does it in a completely convincing manner, will we have arrived at the future of movie making. When the movie version of the life of, say, Barack Obama is made using "performance capture" and CGI instead of starring Will Smith will we know that we have arrived. Until then, see Avatar. It's the closest thing yet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Law & Order: Special Richardson Unit

Richardson City Attorney Pete Smith

The city of Richardson's attorney, Pete Smith, appeared before a city council work session to report the status of a lawsuit brought by William Gordon, a losing candidate in the 2007 council elections. Gordon sued over the city council's executive sessions, claiming they violated the city charter prior to a 2007 amendment authorizing closed sessions. A trial court ruling dismissed most of Gordon's claims but let stand the claim that the city council's executive sessions violated the city's pre-2007 charter. More after the jump.

DMN Tees Off on Sherrill Park

Ian McCann of The Dallas Morning News says Richardson's Sherrill Park Golf Course's "records raise alcohol, conflict-of-interest questions." After the jump, a look into whether there's a story here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Biggest Game of the NFL Season?

Biggest game of the NFL season? Or not even worth proof-reading the promos? Here's how the league is promoting Saturday night's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on the league's Website

Besides the Saturday night date for "Thursday Night Football," who the heck are the Sants [sic]? I know the New Orleans football team was once known as the Ain'ts, but with a 13-0 record this year, you'd think New Orleans would get a little more respect from the NFL marketing experts.

Update: Final score Cowboys 24 - Saints 17. Maybe the Saints don't deserve that much respect, after all.

Who Thinks Like This?

I've said the "visitors" section of the Richardson city council meeting sometimes makes for rollicking good theater. Sometimes pathos. Sometimes bathos. The council meeting of December 14 provided one such moment that stunned me, leaving me shaking my head in wonderment. Did he just say what I think he did?
"I thought I'd add a little levity to tonight and tell you about riding the DART train. I ride the DART train every once in a while down into downtown. When I am surrounded by the derelicts and the mental cases and the troublemakers, I try to be a good Caucasian ambassador."
Levity? I didn't laugh. The audio recording didn't capture any laughter from the audience, either. What in the world was this speaker thinking? Whatever it is, we don't need it in Richardson.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Richardson Accounting Practice Fairly Common

Not much of a headline, I'm afraid. But that's the conclusion of a news story by Ian McCann in The Dallas Morning News headlined "Richardson officials defend use of bond vote money for project salaries". The word "defend" in McCann's headline certainly suggests we have a conflict, with someone on offense and someone on defense. Yet, I can't find anything in the story to indicate who is making a charge, nor what that charge might be, that anyone needs to "defend" against. In fact, in the second to last paragraph, McCann tells us,

"Robert Bland, a professor and chairman of the public administration department at University of North Texas, said using bonds to pay for project management staff is fairly common."

So there you have it. Richardson's accounting practice is fairly common. No one is quoted as saying it isn't. No one is identified as criticizing the city's practice in any way. McCann doesn't tell us why he's even writing this story.

Did you ever read a news story that left you feeling like you are picking up the thread in the middle? Today's story is like that. I'm left scratching my head, thinking I must have walked into this play at the start of the second act.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence

Recently, I was accused of making light of various Richardson residents' concerns expressed during the "visitors" section of City Council meetings. (By the way, the speakers are quaintly called "visitors," a descriptive term only if, at your house or office or event, visitors typically come and yell at you for five minutes before you shoo them away.) After the jump, where my critic says I erred.

Win/Win Solution for Trash?

My blog topics recently have tended towards two topics: the Richardson Lookout Transfer Station and the tone of politics at city council meetings (for example, see here and here). Those two topics intersect in a Twitter "tweet" from council member Amir Omar:

"Just had a very positive meeting w/ HOA Pres & stakeholder re the Richardson LOTS. Working towards a win/win solution."

I've called for the Richardson City Council to conduct more outreach to the neighborhood associations, so this news from council member Amir Omar is good news. I don't like the fact that Omar didn't tell us the name of the HOA president he met with, leaving the impression that it's sensitive information. (And, as before, I'm dissatisfied that he tells us that he's getting good ideas without ever telling us what those ideas are.) But, just hearing that someone from the council is talking to any HOA president is welcome news. The news is more welcome than the claim by someone else (anonymously) that city council members deliberately steered clear of a recent meeting of HOA presidents on the Lookout Transfer Station. If true, that would go counter to the need for more outreach. Maybe the city council can afford to limit engagement with the chronic malcontents. But it can't afford to lose the neighborhood assocations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holy Bill of Rights, Batman

Richardson is not Gotham, but we've got our own little tales of citizen crime-fighters standing up to villains, even when the corruption reaches into the heart of city hall itself. Monday night is when our local heroes answer the bat-call of open mike night at the Richardson City Council meeting. This past Monday night was no exception. After the jump, five heroes' stories.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Richardson: Dialog or Pitchforks - An Update

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a disturbing development in Richardson politics. The title was "Richardson at the Crossroads: Dialog or Pitchforks?" This is an update. The good news is that the ranks of the pitchfork-wielding villagers is still limited to a handful of bloggers and commenters on Internet forums. The bad news is that there's no evidence of outreach on the part of the city council to engage the moderate members of the public. After the jump, what you are not missing by steering clear of the blogs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who Is Amir Schmoozing With Now?

In its own words, Twitter is a free service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What's happening?

After the jump, Twitter and politics.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Things I Was Against Before I Was For

Is it time to geoengineer the Earth?
"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
I keep this John Kerry quote handy to remind myself how convoluted our explanations can become when trying to explain our flip-flops. It's timely because I might be in the process of making some major flip-flops myself and I don't want my own thinking to become convoluted. After the jump, four things I was against that I now just might be for.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fact Checking the Trash Talk

Monday night the NTMWD addressed the Richardson City Council about plans to replace the Lookout Trash Transfer Station. Neighbors of the transfer station are objecting to the project. There are some bogus claims making the rounds. Not in what the NTMWD presented, but in what's being said by the public. The longer such claims go uncorrected, the more deeply they take root as established "facts". After the jump, two examples.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Trash in the Spotlight

It may not generate the excitement and anticipation of, say, the opening of a new Harry Potter movie, but Monday night's Richardson City Council work session had an agenda item that some residents have been waiting months for. Trash and how to move it from here to there.

"NTMWD staff will update City Council regarding progress to date concerning the construction of a new Transfer Station at Lookout Drive's terminus point east of Plano Road. District staff will address various neighborhood concerns and present a regional solid waste system need relative to construction of a new Lookout Dr. Transfer Station. Lastly, NTMWD staff will present/explain the new station's necessary 'throughput' amount, which is of significant interest to all parties involved in these station improvements."
After the jump, my own assessment of whether the work session lived up to expectations.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sick? State Formula Says Go To School

In November, in a blog item about organ donation, I blogged about what's known as misaligned incentives in economics. An example was offered from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's SuperFreakonomics from the ambulance business in mid-20th century America.

"Ambulances were often run by the local mortuary. It is hard to think of a better example of misaligned incentives: a funeral director who is put in charge of helping a patient not die!"
Now we have another example much closer to home. After the jump, how the state of Texas encourages local school districts to get sick children to drag their sorry butts out of bed and get to school.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

And the Chairman's Award Goes To ...

Richardson Christmas Parade Chairman's Award
From 2009 12 Santas Village
The Chairman's Award for the Richardson Christmas Parade goes to the RISD combined high school marching bands from Berkner, Lake Highlands, Pearce and Richardson High Schools. Santa's Village opened in Richardson Saturday evening with the awards ceremony for the Christmas parade held earlier in the day. Based on points awarded to each unit in the parade, the RISD combined high school marching band received the highest total points for the youth entrants (or maybe it was the junior/senior high entrants), earning it the Chairman's Award. Seen above is Ellen accepting the award from the ... Chairman? ... on behalf of the RISD Fine Arts Department.

OK, I don't fully understand the award criteria or exactly who it was making the presentation, but that's not the point. I'm a blogger, not a reporter. Go find Ian McCann if you want the facts. The point is that it was a frigid sunny day, perfect for a Christmas parade, a lot of money was raised for charity and the awards ceremony was a lot of fun to kick off another Santa's Village, which keeps getting better and better. It's open every weekend between now and Christmas. It's free. It's great fun for kids from 1 to 92. Check it out.

More photos can be seen here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

OTBR: Off The Blue Roads

Latitude: 38.405° N
Longitude: 91.083° W
From GD101

There's a story I like about a family on a car trip. A child 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 last month that are "off the blue roads".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Eastside Christmas

Berkner Jazz Band
From 2009 12 Eastside Christmas

The Christmas season opened on a suitably frigid evening Thursday with the ceremonial tree lighting ceremony at Richardson's Eastside mixed-use development on Campbell Rd at Central Expressway. The Berkner High School Jazz Band braved the weather to entertain the crowd.

I hesitate to say anything negative during the Christmas season, but as much as I like Eastside, their Christmas tree is a little underwhelming. The silver lining to this was that, having missed the actual big lighting event in favor of ducking into Twisted Root to get warm and enjoy a good burger, when I later saw the sparsely lighted tree, it removed some of the guilt I felt for ducking out. (I did see a certain high-ranking city official walking through Twisted Root, but I won't say he missed the flipping of the switch, too. More likely, he did the honors.) All in all, a good way to begin a great time of year.

Photos of the event can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fighting City Hall ... in Court

Earlier this week, I blogged about Richardson being at the crossroads, dialog or pitchforks. Will a constructive dialog between the city council and the public be nurtured or will it suffocate in an increasingly poisonous attitude by uncompromising critics? After the jump, a lawsuit that's a bad sign for which direction the city is headed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama Hates Cute Kids ... and Christmas

No, not really. But that's the rap he's getting for the timing of his address to the nation Tuesday night to announce plans for a troop buildup in Afghanistan. After the jump, the case for why Obama hates cute kids ... and Christmas.