Friday, November 30, 2012

S2L77: Kota Bharu

Kota Bahru, Malaysia
February 9-11, 1977

I woke up with a dozen insect bites on my arms. Then, I discovered cockroaches and a rat in this hotel.
It rained most of the day preventing us from seeing much of Kota Bharu.
Something tells me I'm not going to have good memories of Kota Bharu.
We went to the beach at Pantai Cinta Berahi. The sea was rough.
Source: Personal travel notes.

From 1977 02 02 Malaysia

The photo above is of the market outside our hotel in Kota Bharu, on the east coast of Malaysia. Except for the photo, I don't remember the market. I don't remember the rain. I don't remember the roaches or rats or insect bites. So much for the predicted bad memories.

I do remember the beach, but I didn't save any photos. It was a gray, windy day at the beach. The South China Sea was rough. I remember that. I didn't realize that this would be my last view of the sea for the next 7,000 miles, when I would arrive at the Mediterranean coast. But I get ahead of myself. Next stop, Thailand.

One of a continuing series.
Start: Around the World in 800 Days
Previous: Taman Negara
Next: Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mayoral Campaign: It's On

Richardson's city council elections are still five months away. In past elections, that meant that no candidates were doing anything at this stage, in public anyway. That's all changed this year, with voters having approved a city charter amendment calling for direct election of the mayor. That change led to a prediction that elections would get longer and more expensive. Money was going to become more important at the city level, just like it has swamped state and federal elections. That prediction is coming true.

Amir Omar was the first candidate to jump into the race. If anyone thought Omar's early move would cause some other likely candidates to rethink their own plan to run, he was wrong. Laura Maczka has now jumped into the race as well. Whether any other candidates enter the race remains to be seen, but it's not expected that any other council members will run for mayor, including incumbent mayor Bob Townsend.

After the jump, my early thoughts on the race.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Free Will

Free Will
From Free Will, by Sam Harris:
Open quote 

One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next -- a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please -- your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this 'decision' and believe that you are in the process of making it."

After the jump, my review.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Separate Mayoral Campaign Forum

Now that Richardson voters have decided to directly elect their mayor, an election campaign is upon us. I know it's over five months until the election, but that's not keeping the players from jockeying for position. Amir Omar is the only declared candidate so far, but other candidates are likely.

It's not just the candidates who are getting active. After the jump, an unfortunate move by the Dallas County North Republican Club and Richardson Republican Women.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland

Hard-Boiled Wonderland
From Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami:
Open quote 

I was standing on a three-meter-square concrete platform jutting out over bottomless nothingness. No railing, no enclosure. Wish she'd told me about this, I huffed, just a tad upset. An aluminum ladder was propped against the side of the platform, offering a way down. I strapped the flashlight diagonally across my chest, and began my descent, one slippery rung at a time. The lower I got, the louder and more distinct the sound of water became. What was going on here? A closet in an office building with a river chasm at the bottom? And smack in the middle of Tokyo?"

After the jump, my review.

Friday, November 23, 2012

S2L77: Taman Negara

Taman Negara, Malaysia
February 4-8, 1977

At dusk, thousands upon thousands of swallows line the wires outside the hotel in Jerantut.
We saw a few Samba Deer at the Tahan Hide in Taman Negara.
I took a three hour walk up to the top of Bukit Teresek. Four or five hornbills were the only wildlife.
The Swiss tourists have left, leaving only a dozen or so people.
I spent today sleeping late, reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and writing letters.
We came back down river in a drizzling rain, walked two miles to the train station in the rain.
Source: Personal travel notes.

From 1977 02 02 Malaysia
From Kuala Lumpur, we headed east. At the fattest point of the Malay peninsula, we switched buses at Temerloh and headed north to Jerantut, our jumping off spot for our trip into the Malaysian rain forest. Our means of travel was a long, wide, motorized canoe (I call it a canoe because that's what its shape resembled, but it was bigger than any canoe I was used to). We traveled upriver for an hour or more to Taman Negara, a national park in the heart of the Malaysian forest.

Our stay in Taman Negara was more R&R than "Heart of Darkness." My biggest discovery was a can of A&W Root Beer (or maybe it was Dad's Old Fashioned) in the guest dormitory's refrigerator -- the first I had seen since leaving the US two years earlier. Deer, hornbills, even tigers (which I didn't see), I was prepared to see all of these in the Malaysian jungle. I wasn't prepared to find A&W Root Beer. Sweet.

More photos after the jump.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day (2012)

From 2012 00 Miscellaneous
"Don't let the turkeys get you down."
-- Sandra Boynton

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dysfunctional by Design

Watching Richardson city government in action can be frustrating. Sometimes I find myself asking the same question the great baseball manager Casey Stengel asked when hired to manage the hapless New York Mets in their first year of play, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

But then I catch myself. Just how is the game supposed to be played? I end up thinking that maybe the appearance of dysfunction in city government may, in fact, be just how it's designed to operate.

After the jump, am I expecting too much?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Tale of (Parking in) Two Cities

What's the difference between 20th century suburban sprawl and 21st century urban renewal? In a word, parking. The last time we looked in on parking in Richardson, the city council was deliberating whether to allow a Burger King restaurant to whittle away Richardson's strict landscape buffering requirements in order to build a bigger parking lot. That's right, the business owner wants even more parking than what Richardson requires, which is already a lot. That's a sign that Richardson is still stuck in 20th century suburban sprawl.

After the jump, a city with a 21st century attitude towards parking

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Leonardo's Lost Princess

Leonardo's Lost Princess
From Leonardo's Lost Princess: One Man's Quest to Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci, by Peter Silverman and Catherine Whitney:
Open quote 

One would have to be a fool not to be wary of a Leonardo attribution. There's bound to be controversy. The last time a serious claim was made, it took nearly a century to sort it out."

After the jump, my review.

Friday, November 16, 2012

S2L77: Thaipusam at Batu Caves

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 3, 1977

We visited the Batu Caves during Thaipusam. Men skewered their cheeks and tongues and danced themselves into a frenzy on their procession to the great cave.
Source: Personal travel notes.
From 1977 02 02 Malaysia

One hundred miles up the Malay peninsula from Malacca is Kuala Lumpur. We arrived just in time for Thaipusam. Thirty five years later, I'm still stunned. That's all. I don't know what else to say. To learn more about this totally amazing festival, look it up yourself: Thaipusam.

More photos after the jump.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Permanent Campaign Comes to Richardson

It used to be that Richardson residents would be blessedly free from local election campaigns until a couple of months before the May election, about the time of the filing deadline. That all changed November 6, when Richardson residents voted to have a say in the choice of who cuts ribbons and presides over the city council. Now that the voters will directly elect the mayor, the election campaign begins earlier than ever. On November 14, Amir Omar announced his candidacy, a full six months before voters go to the polls.

After the jump, the implications.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Finding Clarity in a Mountain of Trash

Two years ago, the Neighborhood Protection Alliance of Richardson (NPAR) announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning the reconstruction of the Lookout Trash Transfer Station (LOTS). Even though NPAR was aware that the MoU carried little or no weight, NPAR still presented it as some kind of achievement. I was skeptical. Here's what I had to say about the MoU at the time:
Don't let the fact that the agreement is "tentative" worry you. Or that the guarantee is "implicit." Don't mind that "there are still questions as to the legal teeth" of the understanding. Trust that capacity will be capped at 625 tons even though "NTMWD has rejected any stipulation to permanently restrict capacity." Ignore the fact that, on their own websites, neither COR nor NTMWD admits to any commitments, or even mentions an agreement at all.
Source: Mark Steger.
After the jump, NPAR finally appears to get the clarity they somehow missed two years ago.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Breaking and Branding Richardson

Central Expressway Study Map

Central Heights. Trailside. McKamy Spring. Rustic Circle. Civic District. Chinatown. Recognize these areas of Richardson? They're all supposedly neighborhoods in the planning study for the Main Street/Central Expressway redevelopment project that the City of Richardson has launched. The city's latest thinking on the subject is full of new names and pretty pictures.

After the jump, my thoughts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Curious Interview in Des Moines

On October 23, President Obama gave an interview to the Des Moines Register. The story goes that the president asked that the interview be off the record, the newspaper questioned why that should be, and the Obama campaign relented and released the transcript.

This background is but a footnote to the presidential election campaign, but the President said something in the interview that struck me at the time as curious. After the jump, the president on immigration reform.

Friday, November 9, 2012

S2L77: Malacca

From 1977 02 02 Malaysia

150 miles from Singapore up the Malaysian peninsula lies Malacca. It's about a three hour car ride on a two lane coastal highway through occasional villages. It's how I got my introduction to driving in Asia (as a passenger, not a driver myself). You don't wait for a break in oncoming traffic to pass slow moving vehicles (and when you're in a car, everything else is slow moving). You pass by pulling out into the passing lane, bluffing as much of the oncoming traffic off onto their own shoulder as you can, and just keep going until you're forced back into your lane by a better bluffer than you. Cheaper than a Six Flags ticket, more exciting than any thrill ride.

After the jump, a geographical history lesson.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Electing a Mayor

[Life] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Source: William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
One election down. Next up: a mayoral election in May, 2013, because voters in Richardson chose overwhelmingly to amend the City Charter to have a direct election of the mayor. No surprise there. Now the handicapping of the May mayoral race begins. After the jump, my early, wild speculation, unsupported by any evidence, just because I'm addicted to the horses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Did Sandy Tip Election to Obama?

Did Hurricane Sandy, the October surprise, tip the election to President Obama? Perhaps. The disaster did give the president the opportunity to display leadership, a trait that Mitt Romney claimed the president lacked. If Sandy gets the blame for Romney's loss, it is in part due to it exposing a dubious claim at the heart of the Romney campaign. Call it nature's way of fact-checking a politician.

In any case, Hurricane Sandy was just the last of a long string of reasons, most of them self-inflicted wounds, that contributed to Romney's loss. After the jump, the rundown.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

OTBR: A Rainbow in Utah

Latitude: N 39° 20.946
Longitude: W 111° 55.656
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".

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Wheel's Voters Guide

Local: Vote for doing the right things. Vote against doing things the wrong way.

State: Vote for public schools, for health care, for water supplies, for women, for voting rights, for paying for government, for science and fact-based government.

Federal: Vote for jobs, for Medicare and Medicaid, for health care reform, for Social Security, for paying for government, for a carbon tax, for financial regulation, for civil rights, for the environment, for immigration reform, for Keynesian economics, for science and fact-based government.

Most importantly, vote, while they'll still let you. ;-)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Playoff Bound: Richardson 47, Berkner 35

From 2012 11 02 Richardson vs Berkner

In a game with playoff implications, the Richardson Eagles defeated the Berkner Rams 47-35 Friday night at Wildcat-Ram Stadium. With the win, Richardson secured the fourth and final playoff spot in District 9-5A, while the Rams will finish in fifth place.

The Mighty Ram Band put on their UIL competition show at halftime as a final warmup before heading to San Antonio for the state marching competition in the Alamodome on November 6. Good luck, band.

More photos after the jump.

Friday, November 2, 2012

S2L77: "Caught Smuggling"

Singapore is commonly described as a "fine city" -- you are fined for dozens of small offenses: jaywalking, chewing gum, carrying durian on public transport (that fine is well deserved), driving in forbidden zones without a permit.

Singapore is where I first encountered the idea of relieving traffic congestion by requiring drivers to purchase permits to drive in the central business district. What struck me in 1977 as novel and a little draconian, I now view as a sensible way to keep automobiles from clogging our cities. Maybe it's not surprising that it was the people of the "fine city" of Singapore who gave such a practical policy a chance to demonstrate its effectiveness.

From 1977 01 29 Singapore
"The Good-For-Nothing Rich Man's Son Caught Smuggling"

After the jump, a place that reveals the puritanism behind the "fine city."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Repeat Tweets: Election Edition

Repeat tweets from October, 2012:

  • 1 Oct 2012: Libertarian candidate upset by treatment by WFAA. Complains to government for help. Can you say irony?
  • 1 Oct 2012: Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Intrigue. Treachery. Smart dialog. Rich characters. A-
  • 2 Oct 2012: Romney sounded like a moderate Dem. I wonder how his answers would have gone over at GOP primary debate.
  • 3 Oct 2012: Romney's for good things in Obamacare, and good things in Wall St regulations, and against tax cuts. He's a closet Democrat!
  • 3 Oct 2012: Romney promised tax rate cuts, no education cuts, bigger military, more Medicare spending, reduced deficits. But no plan how.
  • 3 Oct 2012: My previous tweets focused on substance. But let's get real. Many people care only about style. Stylistically, Romney won.
  • 3 Oct 2012: "I'm not going to say I've done a poor job." -- Jim Lehrer. Sadly, not the biggest lie told on that stage in debate full of them.
  • 3 Oct 2012: "Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time." -- Harry Truman. Listen up, Obama.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.