Friday, May 29, 2015

Review: Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation
From Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill:
Open quote 

"'I think I must have missed your second book,' he says. 'No,' I say. 'There isn't one.' He looks uncomfortable; both of us are calculating the years or maybe only I am. 'Did something happen?' he says kindly after a moment. 'Yes,' I explain."

After the jump, my review.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sweet Jesus, $47 Million? - Amen

Earlier, I argued against giving targeted tax breaks to developers. Reader Steve Benson raised two counter-arguments.

First, development can sometimes result in added tax revenues greater than the cost of the city services consumed by that development, thus reducing the real tax burden on other taxpayers.

Second, if cities are prohibited from offering targeted tax breaks, some development projects in the category above won't proceed.

Is Steve correct? And if so, should I change my mind about the Palisades development in particular, and targeted tax breaks in general?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Selma (2014)

Selma (2014): Powerful portrayal of fight for voting rights. Tips towards MLK and against LBJ. Voting rights under threat again today. B+

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sweet Jesus, $47 Million? - ctd

Some people's view of the world is black and white and isn't troubled by the complexities of a case like this. Not me. My head hurts thinking about all the angles to this deal. I start with Eric Nicholson's reaction: "Sweet Jesus, $47 million?" But I end up torn. It might not be the best deal Richardson could have swung. But it might not be such a bad deal, either. I'm sorry if you've read this far and are disappointed in that wishy washy answer.
Source: The Wheel.
That's what I wrote when I first covered the topic of the $47 million tax rebate Richardson granted to the developer of Palisades. I'm back to make up for my wishy washy answer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

POTD: Taman Mini Indonesia Indah

From 2015 03 11 Jakarta

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Jakarta, Indonesia. It is a photo of the Pavilion of West Sumatra in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (literally translated, "Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park"). Think of it as an Epcot Center devoted to the various islands and cultures of Indonesia. Good times.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: We Are Called to Rise

We Are Called to Rise
From We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride:
Open quote 

There was a year of no desire. I don't know why. Margo said I was depressed; Jill thought it was 'the change.' That phrase made me laugh. I didn't think I was depressed. I still grinned when I saw the roadrunner waiting to join me on my morning walk. I still stopped to look at the sky when fat clouds piled up against the blue, or in the evenings when it streaked orange and purple in the west. Those moments did not feel like depression."

We Are Called to Rise is this year's selection for "Richardson Reads One Book." Above is the very first paragraph. For me, it almost turned the book into "Richardson Reads One Paragraph."

After the jump, my review.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

POTD: Sunda Kelapa

From 2015 03 11 Jakarta

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Jakarta, Indonesia. It will be of interest to lovers of history and the sea. It was taken in Sunda Kelapa, the old port of Jakarta. The port dates back at least 800 years and served as the main port of Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies until the late 19th century.

Modern ships have outgrown the port, but it's still home to pinisi, traditional two-masted wooden sailing ships that carry cargo between Indonesia's many islands. It's still an active port. Walking down the long dock, observing the loading and unloading of ships, is like taking a step back in time, and not some historical re-creation but the real thing. Good times.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meet the Mayor: Paul Voelker

Following a unlikely chain of falling dominoes, Paul Voelker was sworn in as Mayor of Richardson Monday night. (If you've been on Mars the last few months and don't know what all those dominoes were, tough. Here at The Wheel that's so yesterday's news.)

Voelker's selection wasn't a complete surprise. We had Bob Townsend as the slight favorite (or maybe Mark Solomon, depending on how much fight Townsend had in him), but Paul Voelker was our favorite to come out of a deadlocked executive session. And deadlocked it appeared to be, as the council took almost exactly an hour to decide on a pick. After the clock ticked away, it was no surprise when the council eventually named Paul Voelker as Mayor and Mark Solomon as Mayor Pro Tem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


From 2015 05 07 Portland

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Portland, Oregon. President Obama visited the city for a fundraiser downtown and a speech at Nike headquarters in Beaverton promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. He was met by several hundred protestors, including the woman in the photo above who went to some trouble to make not just a sign but a costume. The whole scene struck me a little like something from the television series Portlandia.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sweet Jesus, $47 Million?

"Sweet Jesus, $47 Million?" That's what Unfair Park's Eric Nicholson exclaimed when learning the total of the City of Richardson's economic development agreement for the construction of apartments, offices and retail in the Palisades development.

Is he right to be flabbergasted? On the one hand, $47 million is a big number. No doubt about that. But compared to what? And what does the city get for its $47 million? Spoiler alert: the more I think about this, the less certain I am of what I should think.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Picking a Mayor Behind Closed Doors

Two years ago, after the last city council election in Richardson, I had this to say about the new council's first agenda item for the new term:
It's that time again. Now that Richardson's city council election is over, now that the sturm und drang of an election campaign has abated, now that the voters themselves have elected their next mayor, it's time to seat the new council and have them choose from among themselves, with no say from the voters, who should be their mayor -- mayor pro tem, anyway. What?!? If that sounds like maybe we haven't made as much change as we thought we were making, it's because it's true.
Source: The Wheel.

Well, this year it's the same story. Only this time, the new council's pick for Mayor Pro Tem will immediately become Mayor and serve in that position for the next two years. (For those who have been out of town for the last two months or so, that's because Mayor Laura Maczka has said she will decline to serve another term, thus creating a vacancy to be filled by the new Mayor Pro Tem.) In effect, we're back to having the council pick not only the Mayor Pro Tem, but the Mayor, too. The amount of change our amended city charter brought us two years ago is even less of a change than I thought then.

It's interesting to re-read everything that I wrote then, given everything that's happened since. I stand by some of it. Some I would change. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which is which.

It's worth noting that there will be one change from two years ago. A change to eliminate an innovation introduced two years ago. A change that really does take us back to the way things were done before.

Friday, May 15, 2015

POTD: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

From 2015 03 11 Jakarta

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Jakarta, Indonesia, specifically Kota, the old city, once named Batavia by the Dutch, when it was the capital of the Dutch East Indies from the 17th to 19th centuries. The photo was taken in Fatahillah Square in front of the former Stadhuis, or town hall of Batavia.

But enough of history. The point of the photo isn't how old Jakarta is, it's how young Jakartans are. And how they are like young people all around the world. Obviously these girls just wanna have fun.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

City Council Election Maps

The 2015 Richardson City Council election maps tell a story. But not a surprising story. Below is the election map for the Townsend/Wilder Place 1 race, won by Bob Townsend. The precincts won by Townsend are in dark green. The precincts won by Rick Wilder are in light green.

Place 1

Given that Townsend won with an overall 62% vote, the map is mostly dark green as you'd expect. Wilder won handily in his home neighborhood of Duck Creek. He also won handily in the Prairie Creek neighborhood, the area closest to the planned Palisades development. Just to the north and south of there, the race was close, with Townsend winning by a tiny margin to the north and Wilder winning by a tiny margin to the south. Almost everywhere else in Richardson, Townsend won handily. The Palisades issue was a real one, hurting Townsend, but it turned out to be decisive in only one neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

St. Vincent (2014)

St. Vincent (2014): Cranky old man befriends boy. Funny and warm, but not syrupy, character study. Oscar nom for Bill Murray. Deserved. A-

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Takeaways from City Council Election

The Wheel doesn't do listicles. But they are popular on Buzzfeed and easy enough to write, so let's do one anyway. Here are our 5 takeaways from Richardson's City Council Elections.

Monday, May 11, 2015

POTD: Satay Ayam

From 2015 03 11 Jakarta

The Richardson City Council election is over, so it's time to get away. Today's photo-of-the-day is from Jakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta is about as far away from Richardson as you can get without starting to get closer again. Jakarta is 10,042 miles from Richardson. The only major city in the world that is farther away is Perth, Australia. And what better way to get the taste of the Richardson City Council election out of our mouths than to remember the foods of Indonesia? Walk the side streets of Jakarta and the smells from the food stalls entice you. The smoke from grilling chicken draws you in as your qualms and misgivings drift away with the wind. Good times.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Overnighters (2014)

The Overnighters (2014): North Dakota oil boom pastor shelters job seekers, but haters gonna hate. Gut-wrenching. Liberty with the truth? B+

Thursday, May 7, 2015

POTD: Selfie at 433 Feet

From 2015 03 11 Jakarta

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Jakarta, Indonesia, specifically the top of the National Monument, a 433 foot tower in central Jakarta built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian independence. The photo shows a universal tendency of smartphone owners to snap a photo of themselves at tourist sites (and almost anywhere else, for that matter). It turns out we really are all alike under the skin.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The One I Love (2014)

The One I Love (2014): Couple in counseling meet their doppelgängers in a guest house. Who's who? Fun movie if you don't question it. B-

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OTBR: California Redwoods

Latitude: N 37° 24.270
Longitude: W 122° 21.288

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, May 4, 2015

15 Highway Projects North Texas Needs

Not really. More like 15 highway projects the highway industry and their lobbyists want. The list is offered unquestioningly by Dallas Business Journal's Nicholas Sakelaris.

There are two numbers buried in this story that suggest to me that maybe we ought to be rethinking our dependence on highways to, as Sakelaris puts it, "keep the economy rolling."

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar (2014): Wormhole shows humans way off dying Earth. Mishmash of ideas. Explains plot with dialog not action. Waste of talent. D+

Friday, May 1, 2015

Repeat Tweets: No Higher, No Wider US 75

Repeat tweets from April, 2015:

  • Apr 1 2015: "What happened to 'no-higher, no-wider' for US 75 through Richardson?" For once I agree with Rodger Jones.
  • Apr 3 2015: Force Majeure (2014): Different reactions to skiing avalanche split family. Not a disaster movie, but OK psychological study of stress. C+
  • Apr 8 2015: Headline: "Denver Broncos CB Aqib Talib Involved In Dallas Nightclub Incident." Berkner grad. So sad.
  • Apr 11 2015: Birdman (2014): Pretentious. Over-acted. Movie and theater-industry navel-gazing. Oscar mistake. C+

After the jump, more repeat tweets.