Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Can Anyone Be Against Open Meetings?

"In October of 2004, a member of the city council in Alpine, Texas, sent an e-mail to other councilmembers asking if they wanted to place a particular item on a future council agenda. The following day, one of the other councilmembers responded to recipients of the first e-mail, stating that she agreed that the item should be discussed. The local district attorney decided that this e-mail exchange violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) because the e-mails ultimately involved a quorum of the city council. As a result, two of the councilmembers were criminally indicted by a grand jury."
-- Texas Municipal League

I can understand why some good people may come to the conclusion that public service just isn't worth the aggravation. The idea behind the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) is good, but it doesn't achieve its purpose. It doesn't drive government deliberations out into the open. It simply squelches them. Not by statute, but by practical effect. Good intentions, unintended consequences.

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm against motherhood and apple pie, against the flag, against good governance and for smoke-filled rooms, but ... after the jump, the case against the Texas Open Meetings Act. Not open meetings, mind you. The law.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Richardson Idol: Week Two

The second week of Richardson Idol aired last night from the sanctuary of the Richardson East Church of Christ. This week's sponsor was the Owens Park Neighborhood Association. Twelve of thirteen contestants vying for the grand prize, a seat on the Richardson City Council, appeared, some with fresh material, some reprising their old standards. Neilsen ratings were down a little, but not by much. As the format requires, it is up to the audience (and by audience, I mean me) to eliminate one contestant each week until we have a council. (The recap of last week's show can be found here.)

But before we hear who will be eliminated this week, let's first hand out superlatives ... after the jump.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Excerpts: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

From "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot:

Open quote

I was stunned. The woman I’d been lying next to for days -- laughing, elbowing, consoling -- was now running from me like I was out to get her. "Deborah!" I called after her. "I’m not trying to do anything bad. I just want to learn your mother’s story, same as you." She whipped around, her eyes still panicked, "I don’t know who to trust," she hissed, then ran out the door, slamming it behind her."

After the jump, my review and more excerpts.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Excerpts: The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies

From "The Emperor of All Maladies," by Siddhartha Mukherjee:

Open quote
She imagined and concocted various causes to explain her symptoms - overwork, depression, dyspepsia, neuroses, insomnia. But in the end, something visceral arose inside her - a seventh sense - that told Carla something acute and catastrophic was brewing within her body."

After the jump, my review and more excerpts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Future of Richardson Is In Beijing

Google HQ at Tsinghua
"You may be right,
I may be crazy.
But it just may be the lunacy
Richardson is looking for."
-- With apologies to Billy Joel.

I have seen the future of Richardson and it is in Beijing. Bear with me. After the jump, come with me to Beijing for a few minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Richardson Idol: Week One

A new season of Richardson Idol premiered last night from Mohawk Elementary School, hosted by the JJ Pearce HOA. This season there are thirteen fresh contestants vying for the grand prize, a seat on the Richardson City Council. As the format requires, it is up to the audience (and by audience, I mean me) to eliminate one contestant each week until we have a council.

But before we hear who will be eliminated this week, let's first hand out superlatives ... after the jump.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mazel Tov: An Eruv Comes to Plano

How many people in Plano even know what an eruv is? How many people in Dallas know what one is, even though Dallasites have been living with two eruvin, maybe even living inside one themselves, for years?

After the jump, the curious new incident of the dog in the night-time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First Impressions of the Candidates

The May 14 Richardson City Council election has 14 candidates for 7 seats. That's a lot of candidates to learn about. So, let's get started. Here are my first impressions of the candidates. I know that first impressions are often wrong. But they can be hard to shake, so it's best that the candidates be aware of the crazy ideas about them that are out there. Let's just say this is a public service to help candidates shape their campaign message to overcome false impressions. That's it -- a public service.

After the jump, let's get busy with first impressions.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Checking Off The Great Wall From Our Bucket List

This spring break, Ellen and I visited John in China and in the process made some significant progress on reducing the length of our personal bucket lists.

After the jump, our itinerary and links to photos.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

OTBR: A Narrow Track in Italy

Latitude: 42.4598 N
Longitude: 12.2907 E

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 last month that are "off the blue roads".

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Open Mike Night in the RISD

Among the things I learned not in school but at a school board meeting, I can now add the word "recognee". Google doesn't find the word in any dictionary but it's a word all right. You know what it means without needing a dictionary to tell you. And it was used in public with the audience understanding the speaker's meaning. That's how language works, so it's a word. (By the way, Google records only 226 hits on the word "recognee" in an advanced search of billions of documents in its vast database. Try to come up with some other somewhat plausible word that scores more than 0 but fewer than 226 hits. It's not easy.)

The recognees were teachers and students honored for outstanding achievement by the Richardson school board (RISD) at its regular meeting Monday night. Honored were All-State musicians (RISD has one of the best music programs in the state, no, in the nation), art students who won scholarships and awards, schools that won national recognition for high performance, and teachers who won state or national awards (Jim Ledford is an RISD treasure who was named a national finalist for the "2011 Positive Coaching Alliance Double Goal Coach Award." Try parsing that. It sounds more like a trick play you call when you're down by two touchdowns with time running out in a football game.)

After the awards, the school board quickly went through the rest of the agenda, approving items on the consent agenda, recognizing gifts and gaveling the meeting to a close.

The only unscripted part of the meeting was the Visitors section, where members of the public address the school board on any topic they choose. After the jump, this week's two visitors.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Religious Bigotry in Richardson

A few days ago, another blog injected religious bigotry into local politics. Here is an excerpt of what was posted.

"There are several other small local city governments around Dallas that have muslim city councilmen on their councils, and they are being watched closely. As their bases are growing, their power is growing. Texas politicos tell me this is their Plan and this is the trend and it is going the momentum is building. Expect more city governments (small) to be headed by muslims. Then they run for State level positions, then Federal. They are building LEADERS. Soon they will be OUR LEADERS."

After the jump, getting down and dirty.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stefani Carter Fiddles While Texas Burns

Texas is in financial crisis. The state faces a $27 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. Raising revenue is off the table. Huge spending cuts are on. Schools across the state may lose 100,000 teachers. The Dallas school district (DISD) alone fears having to lay off 4,000 teachers and increase class sizes from 25 to 35 students. Medicaid cutbacks are in the works, along with cuts to the children's health insurance program. You would think the budget crisis would be top priority for our legislators in Austin. You'd think saving jobs for Texans would be their own Job 1. You would be wrong.

After the jump, what first-term Dallas representative Stefani Carter (TX House District 102) is working on instead.

Friday, March 4, 2011

When Does Daylight Saving Time Begin?

Remember the old days when the supermarket checkout lanes were full of tabloid newspapers with attention-grabbing headlines like "Hillary Clinton Gives Birth to Space Alien Baby"? Anything to get you to put that newspaper into your shopping cart. Well, those days of the news media using sensational headlines to attract eyeballs aren't gone -- if anything, they've expanded from the supermarket to basic cable television to the local news.

Now, on the Internet, there's a new twist in the old headlines game. The new goal is to ensure your story shows up high in Google's search results. As The New York Times explains, search engine optimization (SEO) is the new game. Headlines with puns and double entendres are out. Headlines chock full of trending Google and Twitter search terms are in. Anything to increase the number of clicks that lead to your website. If the story you deliver is relevant to the searcher, that's a plus, but it's not a requirement. Huffington Post is a master of the game, so much so that AOL just paid $315 million to buy Huffington Post to get those clicks.

By the way, Daylight Saving Time (abbreviated DST, EDT, CDT, MDT, PDT; also called Daylight Savings Time with an "s"; or Summer Time in Great Britain, Sommerzeit in Germany, zomertijd in the Netherlands and l'heure d'été in France) begins (or starts) in the United States at 2:00 a.m., March 13, 2011. And it has nothing to do with Mardi Gras, which this year falls on March 8, 2011. ;-)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Richardson City Council Races Heat Up

Kinda. Sorta. We don't have any new officially-filed candidates, but the agitators are beginning to stir. In a move eagerly anticipated by many (and by many, I mean me), the Richardson Citizens Alliance launched a website this week.

After the jump, what we can learn about the Alliance from their own words.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things I Learned In Grade School

As I grow older (and wiser), there are more and more things that I learned in my Catholic grade school that I'm now finding out are not universally shared beliefs as I had once assumed.

After the jump, what I once believed was common sense.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Twitter Tracks: Super Bowl, Snow and More

Twitter tracks from February, 2011:

  • 2011 02 01 - Someone should have told the Packers there was no need to bring the frozen tundra with them to the Super Bowl. #NotFair
  • 2011 02 01 - Uh oh. Tunisia, Egypt, now Jordan. Another domino teeters. Headline: "Jordan's king fires Cabinet amid protests"
  • 2011 02 01 - No guarantee that a new gov't in Egypt will be friendly to US, but polls suggest Obama's presidency has improved odds.
  • 2011 02 01 - Mayor Gary Slagel will not seek re-election. At the same time, hell freezes over in north Texas. Coincidence??? You decide.
  • 2011 02 01 - Satellite Shows Winter Megastorm Painting US White. Proves Global Warming A Hoax. Look Closely, See Jesus In Clouds.
  • 2011 02 01 - Green Bay Packers complain that north Texas weather is "too cold." Too cold for the Packers? That's cold.
  • 2011 02 01 - Please don't leave us, Mayor Slagel. We don't like how city services have deteriorated since you stepped down.
  • 2011 02 01 - OK, it's fun to exaggerate the D/FW storm, but, really, this is normal winter weather for much of the US. You can get out in this. Really.

After the jump, more Twitter tracks.