Saturday, August 31, 2013

Friday Night Heat Lamps

From 2013 08 30 Berkner vs South Garland

The car thermometer read 104° on the way to the game at 7:00 p.m. It read 95° on the way home at 10:30 p.m. Regardless, the calendar said it was the first Friday night of the new school year and that means high school football, aka Friday Night Lights, or maybe in this case, Friday Night Heat Lamps.

Unfortunately for Berkner High School fans, the Rams let a close 7-7 game at halftime get away from them in the second half, losing to the South Garland Colonels 35-7.

After the jump, more photos.

Friday, August 30, 2013

S2L77: Herat, Afghanistan

From 1977 03 23 Afghanistan

Herat, the major city in western Afghanistan, is far from Kabul in the east and Pakistan's back door, where most of the action is. Herat is close to Iran's back door, but the action for Iran is to the west, on the Persian Gulf and on the border with Iraq. That isolation means Herat has been spared the worst of the destruction from the now decades-old wars in Afghanistan.

Update: September 13, 2013: Lest anyone think that Herat is safe in any absolute sense, today's headline proves otherwise: "Taliban insurgents in Herat explode truck bomb outside the U.S. consulate, a former five star hotel, killing three local security force members."

After the jump, Herat in 1977.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Honoring MLK by Restricting the Right to Vote

Jared Patterson is running in the 2014 GOP primary to replace Angie Chen Button as representative in Texas House District 112. He posted this on Facebook the morning of August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech:
Fifty years ago, a Christian conservative stood before the nation to proclaim his Dream. May we honor the content AND context of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech.
Source: Jared Patterson, Facebook.
Just ten hours earlier, the same Jared Patterson posted this on Facebook:
Voter ID laws have to be among the most common sense pieces of legislation during my lifetime.
Source: Jared Patterson, Facebook.
Somehow, I don't see the sentiment expressed here as being compatible with honoring either the content or context of MLK's speech.

After the jump, how far have we come in 50 years?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Richardson's Racial Dot Map

Segregated Richardson

The map is a visualization of US Census data. The boundaries of the crop above are generally the boundaries of Richardson. It consists of one dot per person, color coded by the individual's race and ethnicity. Blue is white. Green is black. Red is Asian. Orange is Hispanic.

After the jump, some random observations.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Being Elmo (2011)

Being Elmo (2011): Documentary of a puppeteer. Behind the scenes on Sesame Street. Too sweet. Maybe should have picked Oscar the Grouch. C+

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tax Expenditures in Richardson

Tax expenditures: spending by another name.
A tax expenditure program is government spending through the tax code. Tax expenditures alter the horizontal and vertical equity of the basic tax system by allowing exemptions, deductions, or credits to select groups or specific activities. For example, two people who earn exactly the same income can have different effective tax rates if one of the tax payers qualifies for certain tax expenditure programs by owning a home, having children, and receiving employer health care and pension insurance.
Source: Wikipedia.
It's understandable why Congress has grown so attached to tax expenditures. It's a way to spend without blame. In fact, Congress is more likely to take credit for reducing taxes.

That's Washington. How about Richardson?

Friday, August 23, 2013

S2L77: Across Afghanistan

March 26-27, 1977
Empty land. A few mud villages, including sleepy Ghazni.
Kandahar was unremarkable.
We stopped for camel rides at some nomad's tent.
The bus ran out of gas.
Source: Personal travel notes.

From 1977 03 23 Afghanistan

More after the jump.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

How to Survive a Plague (2012): History of movement to get govt to accelerate AIDS research as millions died. Forgotten today. Our loss. B+

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Public Hearing on Richardson's Budget

Richardson's 2012-2013 budget forecast was balanced in the common usage sense of the word (revenues exceeded expenditures). The currently estimated budget actuals are not balanced in the common usage sense (expenditures exceed revenues), but by drawing down fund balances (by about $3 million!) the budget actuals are "balanced" in some bureaucratic sense that I still don't claim to fully understand.

Anyway, now it's on to 2013-2014. After the jump, another way to measure success.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

2013-2015 Near-term Action Items

I expected to write this blog post about the near-term action items decided upon by the Richardson City Council during two meetings held August 14 and August 17, 2013. The meetings (retreats?) were held away from city hall. I couldn't make it (my bad - I was sleeping in at the time the second meeting started at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday). Audio and video from the meetings are not posted on the city's website (yet?). Written minutes are not available (yet?).

So, unless you were physically in the audience (at the Eisemann Center, not city hall) you're probably just as much in the dark about what transpired at these meetings as I am. But maybe I know why they called these meetings a "retreat." They were a retreat from transparency in government.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Skates, Dogs, and Near-term Action Items

This week, the Plano City Council voted to build a new, $1 million outdoor skatepark. McKinney opened one earlier this year. Arlington has plans to build a dozen.
Source: Unfair Park.
Richardson has plans, too. Action items, even. Just don't read the fine print. More, after the jump.

Friday, August 16, 2013

S2L77: Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan
March 23-25, 1977
Dust storm and rain greeted us in Kabul,
along with "Harry" the slippery money changer.
Spent the day looking at Afghan crafts on Chicken Street.
Source: Personal travel notes.

From 1977 03 23 Afghanistan

More photos after the jump.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


VW Lemon Ad
Meet the new Interurban District. Same as the old Interurban District.

You didn't know Richardson even has an "Interurban District?" You're probably not alone. It's the area east of Central Expressway and west of the DART rail line from Greer St north to Rayflex Dr. The current conditions and the future vision for the Interurban District were spelled out in the City of Richardson's "Main Street/Central Expressway Study" of January, 2013.
The Interurban District could become a vibrant, mixed-use district that builds upon the existing block structure and buildings in the area. Today's industrial/commercial district, made up of tilt wall and block masonry buildings dating from the 1960's to the 1980's, could transform into an eclectic live/work neighborhood through reuse of the existing building stock for specialty industrial, commercial, retail/ restaurant and residential uses. Vacant and underutilized parcels could be redeveloped into urban housing in the form of loft apartments and live-work units.
Vibrant, mixed-use district. Eclectic live/work neighborhood. Loft apartments. Sounds great, doesn't it? Bring it on. After the jump, the first sign of redevelopment of the Interurban District.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King
From A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers:
Open quote 

He had just left his team, three young people tasked with setting up and demonstrating holographic communications for a king. But there was no king, and they were in a tent, alone, and there seemed to be no knowing when any of this would be rectified."

After the jump, my review.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When is a Tax Hike not a Tax Hike?

"Notice of Public Hearing on Tax Increase." That's what the City of Richardson called it, a tax increase, in a required public notice in the neighborsgo edition of The Dallas Morning News.

"Richardson’s proposed budget for 2013-14 maintains the tax rate while funding key maintenance projects and boosting staff salaries." That's what The Dallas Morning News itself said in its own story on Richardson's proposed budget.

Which is it? A tax increase or maintaining the current tax rate?

After the jump, how the State of Texas confuses residents in the name of clarity... and why.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sticking to the Budget in Richardson

Last week, when I looked at the 2013-2014 budget for the City of Richardson, I pronounced it balanced. Revenues exceeded expenditures, without relying on that sneaky asterisk "plus reserved fund balance, and other funding sources." That made two years in a row where Richardson put forward a truly balanced budget. I pronounced that good.

But of course, a budget is only as good as one's ability to stick to it. So, today, let's take a look at how the City of Richardson is living up to its 2012-2013 budget that it adopted a year ago this month. The fiscal year isn't quite over, so we have look at estimates. Luckily for us, page 22 of the 2013-2014 budget presentation contains the estimates for 2012-2013. Putting that side by side with last year's budget, we get what we're looking for... after the jump.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Invisible War (2012)

The Invisible War (2012): Culture of rape in US military. Victims are blamed. Rapists are not prosecuted. Shameful. Shameful. Shameful. A+

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012): FDR mothered by houseful of women. Intimate look at bigger than life man. Downton Abbey in a funhouse mirror. B-

Friday, August 9, 2013

S2L77: Khyber Pass

From 1977 03 17 Pakistan

On to Afghanistan. The road from India and Pakistan to Central Asia leads through the Khyber Pass, the fabled route of trade and conquest for thousands of years. The Silk Road came through here. So, too, did the Persian army under Darius the Great, the Greek army under Alexander the Great, and the Mongol army under Genghis Khan. In 2001, the US military launched an attack on the nearby mountain caves of Tora Bora, Osama bin Laden's base in that most recent war.

Even in 1977, before the recent decades of war broke out, the route through the Khyber Pass was barely safe. The territory was controlled by warlords as much as by the central governments of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Travelers were warned to start their journey early in the morning in order to be safely in Kabul by nightfall. And not to leave the road for any reason.

More photos after the jump.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fufu and Juju

My nephew has just taken up a year-long assignment running a private, non-profit, fee-free secondary school in a village in Ghana. The coastal setting is Club Med spectacular. The living conditions... not so much.

Judging from the few emails he's managed to send, it sounds like he will have plenty of stories to tell. I hope he decides to write a book. After the jump, an excerpt, just a small part of a larger story, from one email. It's been lightly edited for clarity and anonymity (best let students themselves tell these stories to their parents).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

OTBR: A View of Ballarat's Mt. Helen

Latitude: S 37° 38.394
Longitude: E 143° 48.414

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".

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

If you've been a regular reader of this blog for more than a couple of years (I'm deeply sorry) then you know of my quest for a "balanced budget." Each year, Richardson claims to have a "balanced budget," yet often expenditures exceed revenues. What gives?

Last year, when I last explored this subject, I came to two conclusions.

First, that Richardson considers the budget to be balanced if expenditures are less than revenues plus reserved fund balance, and other financing sources.

Second, that over a multi-year cycle that reserved fund balance sometimes has a surplus that can be drawn down, and sometimes it doesn't. So, even with the more common dictionary definition of balanced budget, one that doesn't consider reserved fund balances, Richardson's budget is cyclically balanced, even if year by year it might run slight deficits or surpluses.

Still, my hope each year is this will be a year in which Richardson doesn't rely on reserved fund balances to make up for an excess of expenditures over revenues. Whether or not it deserves as much attention as I give it, I can't help taking a sneak peek at those bottom line revenue and expenditure numbers.

After the jump, that sneak peek. Revenues vs expenditures. Black or red. Which is it?

Monday, August 5, 2013

No Storming the Castle in Richardson

King Arthur: If you will not show us the Grail, we shall take your castle by force!

French Soldier: You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, son of a silly person! Ah blow my nose at you, so-called "Arthur Keeeng"! You and all your silly English Knnnnnnnn-ighuts!!!
If you substitute a Richardson rental house inspector for King Arthur and a give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death type renter for the French soldier, you'd have pretty much the scene that played out in the courts and the Richardson city council recently.

After the jump, the city council's retreat.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Detropia (2012)

Detropia (2012): Scenes from the hollowing out of a great American city, Detroit. No politics, no preaching, no prescriptions, no hope. C+

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Repeat Tweets: "A Bucket o' Business"

Repeat tweets from July, 2013:

  • 2 Jul 2013: RT @AngieChenButton: "Perry to announce future plans on Monday." Future plans. That's the best kind of plans.
  • 8 Jul 2013: "No rocky coast, no sylvan hiking paths, no loons, whales, etc. Just a bucket o' business and a booming economy."
  • 8 Jul 2013: What's it say about me that Facebook suggests I might like the TV show, "My Favorite Martian?"
  • 8 Jul 2013: RT @BudKennedy: "@TomPauken says @GregAbbott_TX is from an 'Austin that has grown stale with insiders.'" If anyone knows stale, it's Pauken.
  • 8 Jul 2013: Headline: "Stefani Carter announces bid for Railroad Commissioner." That's why she favored gas fracking near homes.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Friday, August 2, 2013

S2L77: Peshawar

From 1977 03 17 Pakistan

We were back on the road ever westward after a relaxing (!) stay in Pakistan's Swat Valley (!!). Do a Google search -- the only time the words "Swat Valley" and "relaxing" are used together any more is when the military relaxes a curfew there. It only gets worse to the west. There's not much room between the Swat Valley and Afghanistan. All roads funnel through Peshawar, the capital of what used to be called the North-West Frontier Provinces. This is at the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, the key point on the strategic route connecting Central Asia and South Asia.

After the jump, Peshawar today... and in 1977.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
From The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz:
Open quote 

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú -- generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World."

After the jump, my review.