Friday, September 30, 2011

When Four Stars Are Good Enough

RISD's FAST results

The 2011 update of the Texas Comptroller's Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) was recently released. According to the FAST website, "Each district and campus is assigned a FAST rating of one to five stars, indicating its success in combining cost-effective spending with the achievement of measurable student academic progress. Five stars reflects the strongest relative progress combined with the lowest relative spending."

Some of the nearby school districts that earned five stars are Allen, Coppell, Garland, Irving, Mesquite and Wylie. Congratulations to all of them.

Where did the Richardson ISD land on this rating scale? That little red square at the top of the graph above is the RISD. Scattered around the rest of the graph are 40 fiscal peers. Richardson's position earns it four stars out of five.

After the jump, what the RISD would have to do to improve its ratings next year. And why I'm not sure it's a good idea.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of Droughts and Trees - Continued

Sunday in Evansville, Indiana, brought with it an otherworldly experience. It was raining when I awoke. It was raining after breakfast. It was raining before and after lunch. It was raining before and after dinner. It was raining when I went to sleep. Steady, continuous, life-giving rain. The locals could not understand why I walked around all day with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, on my drive home, the stretch from Texarkana to Dallas brought a return to Dante's Inferno. The ground was parched. The grass was dry or blackened from fire. The watering holes were shriveled. More trees than I could count were dead or dying, with leaves brown and withered, way too early in the season to be the normal signs of autumn.

Recently, I blogged about the effects of this drought on the trees of Houston, Dallas and Richardson. After the jump, an update.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Erratum: Perry's Debating Skill

By now, it's conventional wisdom that Gov. Rick Perry's debate performances have gone from bad to worse. "Not yet ready for primetime." "A train wreck." "Flubbed" and "stumbled." "Yikes." "Close to a disqualifying two hours." And those were the judgments of conservative pundits.

There were differing explanations for Perry's poor performances, everything from chronic back pain to chronic dimwittedness. My own theory was that Perry was having a difficult time trying to walk back some of his more outrageous statements from the first days of his campaign (e.g., Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie"). I said he was trying to sound reasonable, which could be a stretch for him.

I don't think my explanation stands up to scrutiny. Perry may have backpedaled from his Social Security comments, but he doubled down on some of his other controversial actions (e.g., HPV vaccinations, Texas DREAM act). He didn't help himself with GOP primary voters either way.

After the jump, my new, new theory for Perry's debate performances.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grim Reaper a Packers Fan?

Green Bay billboard

You decide how well this billboard will go over in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Installation of a censored version is planned near Lambeau Field. (The censored version removes the cheesehead after threat of a trademark infringement lawsuit from the manufacturer of foam cheeseheads).

Remember, this is the state where a popular suggestion for a license plate slogan was "Eat Cheese or Die" (which, sadly, was rejected by the then governor).

Happy 90th Birthday!

From 2011 09 Evansville

To celebrate Walt's 90th birthday, he, Ellen and I drove back to Evansville, Indiana to celebrate the occasion with old friends. On the way, we stopped in Paducah, Kentucky, to pay respects at the Denning family graves. We also visited Ruth's resting place in Evansville. It was a weekend with moments of sad remembrance and moments of joyful celebration. All in all, a trip to treasure.

For all photos, look here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Richardson Library Shifts Into OverDrive

The Richardson Public Library is one of the gems of the city's services to residents. For about a year now, it's offered eBook lending, but didn't support the Amazon Kindle device. That wasn't the RPL's fault. Amazon has been slow to open the Kindle up for such services. OverDrive, the service the RPL uses to manage eBook downloads, offered support for the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader and various cell phones and the Apple iPad and PCs, but the obvious hole in their support was the missing Kindle.

This week, all that changed. OverDrive announced support for the Kindle.

After the jump, what this means for the Richardson Public Library ... and me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Richardson's Top Forty

Not musical hits. Things to do.
The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.
Source: Brenda Ueland
The Richardson City Council caters their meals at their work sessions, so they already have the first two of those recommendations covered. As for getting somebody to love them, politicians might as well get a dog. The electorate may vote you into office, but they'll never love you.

So, instead of following Brenda Ueland's advice quoted above, the Richardson City Council came up with their own list of the most important things to do in the world. They burdened themselves with forty.

After the jump, the top forty.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Netflix, Qwikster and the Dumpster

RT @FakeAPStylebook: "The past tense of 'Netflix' is 'Netflucked.'"

33 1/3 LP vinyl records. 45 RPM singles. Cassette tapes. CDs. VHS tapes. DVDs. Blu-ray Discs. Except for the very last one, I made my way through each of the earlier generations of physical media for music and movies. Until now.

After the jump, how Netflix's latest move marks a milestone in the entertainment delivery industry, a milestone like none of the ones that went before.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Must See Television According to My DVR

Big week for television. The Emmys were handed out Sunday. The new television season debuts this week. It's time to check that the DVR season passes are up to date.

After the jump, a comparison of what Hollywood thinks I should be watching with what my DVR is actually capturing for me to watch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Richardson Working on the Right Problems?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Joseph Heller's classic novel "Catch 22." In it, there's an unforgettable scene in which the protagonist, Yossarian, a bombardier in World War II, treats his fellow crew member Snowden's leg wound during an aerial bombing mission:
Next he began binding the compress in place with a roll of gauze. The second time around Snowden's thigh with the bandage, he spotted the small hole on the inside through which the piece of flak had entered, a round, crinkled wound the size of a quarter with blue edges and a black core where the blood had crusted. Yossarian sprinkled this one with sulfanilimide too and continued unwinding the gauze around Snowden's leg until the compress was secure. Then he snipped off the roll with the scissors and slit the end down the center. It was a good bandage, he knew, and he sat back on his heels with pride, wiping the perspiration from his brow, and grinned at Snowden with spontaneous friendliness.

'I'm cold,' Snowden moaned. 'I'm cold.'

'You're going to be all right, kid,' Yossarian assured him, patting his arm comfortingly. 'Everything's under control.'
Source: Catch 22.
I won't print the spoiler here, even for a 50 year old book, but you don't have to be a fan of "Catch 22" to guess that everything is not under control. Everything is not going to be all right. Yossarian, in fact, has been working on the wrong problem all along.

After the jump, why the Richardson city council's goal setting exercise reminded me of Yossarian's first aid.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Excerpts: The Origins of Political Order

The Origins of Political Order
From "The Origins of Political Order," by Francis Fukuyama:

Open quote 
Thomas Hobbes lays out the basic 'deal' underlying the state: in return for giving up the right to do whatever one pleases, the state (or Leviathan) through its monopoly of force guarantees each citizen basic security."

After the jump, my review and more excerpts.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

About that Page 99 in the CAFR

As expected, the Richardson City Council approved by a 7-0 vote a 2011-2012 budget that technically is a smidgen in the red for the year, but is cyclically balanced in that it uses excess reserve funds from last year to cover the deficit.

Still, there are some who point to the 2010 CAFR, especially page 99, as the smoking gun evidence of chronic deficit spending in Richardson.

After the jump, a look at the infamous page 99 (and page 100).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Of Droughts and Trees

Richardson's "Tree the Town" project has a goal of planting 50,000 trees. "Tree North Texas" has a goal of planting 3,000,000 trees. The current drought being experienced across Texas shouldn't change those ambitions, but it does require some adaptation.

After the jump, some thoughts by the arborist for the City of Dallas, Phil Erwin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tea Party Forum or Bar Room Brawl

For the most part, the questions asked of GOP presidential candidates at the CNN/Tea Party debate were standard, predictable fare. How to balance the budget? How to get the economy growing again? How to reduce the cost of health care? A few questions were on subjects near and dear to the Tea Party. Should the Federal Reserve be audited? Do you support the Fair Tax? Very few of the questions required the candidates to do anything but repeat well-rehearsed lines from their stump speech. So much for the value of letting audience members ask the questions.

Still the debate was entertaining and informative because of the interaction among the candidates. The grilling came from the attacks the candidates made on each other. The alternate cheers and boos from the audience added to the bar room brawl atmosphere.

After the jump, my favorite questions and answers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Critical Modifier: Cyclically Balanced

Recently, I blogged about Richardson's proposed 2011-2012 budget and declared it not to be in balance. That is, expenditures exceeded revenues. The difference was covered by excess balances in reserve funds. Nothing wrong with doing that, I also declared.

Others were not satisfied. After the jump, new developments.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Late Summer in the Steger Garden (2011)

From Flowers
A quiet moment in the garden on 9/11/2011, remembering the events of ten years ago.

After the jump, another photo.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Southlake Carroll 20, Berkner 10

From 2011 Football

The Berkner Rams lost to perennial power Southlake Carroll 20-10 Friday night at Ram-Wildcat Stadium. The Rams held their own through much of the game, taking a 10-7 lead in the first half and holding the potent Carroll offense to just 3 points in the second half. But the Rams couldn't crack the Dragon defense. Still, it's a great time to be a Ram!

More photos from this game and all of the 2011 season, including the bands and color guards and drill teams and cheerleaders and everything else that goes into making high school football the best value in Friday night entertainment, can be found here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Not on Perry's Reading List

How ironic was it that the GOP presidential candidates forum was held in a library -- the Reagan Library, but still. Instead of a background of books, we saw a humongous, gas-guzzling jumbo jet hovering over the proceedings. And one by one, the candidates demonstrated that reading books, at least science books, is not one of their habits as they fly back and forth across the country campaigning for president.

After the jump, what's not on Rick Perry's reading list.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yeehaw! Perry at the Reagan Ranch

Actually, the site of the GOP presidential candidates debate wasn't the Reagan Ranch. It was the Reagan Library. But a ranch better fits the image Rick Perry wants to project and he probably hasn't been in a library in decades. So, we'll go with ranch.

The rules of the debate forbade the candidates from having notes or props on stage, but you just know that under his jacket Perry was carrying. And that he'd use it if necessary if Ron Paul persisted in pointing out that in the 1980s, while Reagan was President, Rick Perry supported Al Gore for President.

After the jump, how Perry did as the GOP frontrunner in his first scrimmage with the other candidates.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


With succinct finality, Ian McCann tweeted the news that layoffs were in progress at The Dallas Morning News: -30-

He followed up later with "I appreciate the thoughts everybody. Now time to plan the next adventure, almost 12 years after the first one began."

Besides Twitter, the blog DMNcuts seems to be the best place to follow the news from the DMN newsroom. According to a document obtained by that anonymous blogger, the cuts affected 38 people, including reporters, photographers, and editors.

After the jump, my thoughts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Open Mike, Black Hole

The Richardson City Council's Statement of Goals (pages 9-28 of this handout from the August 29 city council meeting) is full of noble ambitions, but it will be the list of near-term action items that city residents really should pay attention to. Those are the items most likely to show up on the council's meeting agenda sometime in the next two years.

After the jump, a suggestion for one easily achievable near-term action item regarding communication.

Monday, September 5, 2011

OTBR: A Wheat Field in Finland

Latitude 60.170800° N
Longitude 23.149300° 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".

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Richardson Eagles 37, Irving 14

From 2011 Football

In their first home game of the season, the Richardson Eagles Friday night put up a convincing 37-14 win over the Irving Tigers at Eagle-Mustang Stadium.

More photos from this game and all of the 2011 season can be found here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Berkner Rams 42, North Crowley 6

From 2011 Football

In their first home game of the season, the Berkner Rams rolled Thursday night to a 42-6 win over the North Crowley Panthers at Ram-Wildcat Stadium. It's a great time to be a Ram!

More photos from this game and all of the 2011 season can be found here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Repeat Tweets: Deficit, Heat, Drought, Quake

Repeat tweets from August, 2011:

  • 2011 08 01 - Stock market off 0.5% after debt deal. Business understands economy's problem is *not* deficit, but jobs. And debt deal will cost more jobs.
  • 2011 08 02 - What's the official name of the new deficit reduction committee? For the record, it's the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
  • 2011 08 02 - Democratic stimulus in 2009 arrested economy's freefall. Now we see if GOP austerity in 2011 will lead to growth or double dip recession.
  • 2011 08 02 - Cotton Belt Rail Corridor simulation on YouTube. Skip to about 7:00 mark for Richardson/Plano alignment options.
  • 2011 08 02 - ABC is bringing back "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Updated, of course. For one thing, it'll be called "Who Wants To Be A Job Creator."
  • 2011 08 03 - Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro: Memoir of growing up in a weird orphanage. Might be a better Twilight Zone episode than novel. C-
  • 2011 08 04 - Headline: "Wall Street stocks drop 3 percent on economic fears." In other news, Boehner and McConnell are high-fiving each other.
  • 2011 08 04 - Spoiler alert: Don't look at your retirement 401K balance. ... Correction: 301K. ... Make that 201K.
  • 2011 08 04 - Texans, we're all supposed to pitch in and reduce our overall energy demands. I dunno, sounds like tree-hugging environmentalism to me.
  • 2011 08 04 - President Obama defends debt ceiling deal as balanced. Equally significant concessions were made by Democrats in both House and Senate.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Austrian Economics, Meet Medieval Hungary

Serendipity sometimes causes seemingly unrelated matters to cross paths, crashing into one another, bringing new insights into the nature of reality. As I explored the City of Richardson's proposed 2011-2012 budget, a YouTube video was recommended to me. It's a lecture by Walter Block from the Mises Institute Media. Independently, I happen to be reading "The Origins of Political Order" by Francis Fukuyama.

I offer two excerpts. I leave as an exercise for the reader to decipher the tracks of the particles released in this collision of economic philosophy and history.

After the jump, the excerpts.