Monday, August 31, 2015

Three Graphs That Explain Your Water Bill

If your water bill tripled last month, don't blame rate increases. The rate for water in Richardson was the same last month as the month before. Sure, it's been going up year after year, and will continue to do so, but those increases are in the order of 8-10% per year, not the 300% per month that some people saw their water bills go up last month.

What would account for a 300% increase in water bills is increased usage. That that happened shouldn't be shocking. May was the wettest month in the area's history. We still had twice a month watering restrictions in place, although no one should have had to water their lawn at all. June and July were dry, dry, dry. And the water restrictions were eased. Twice weekly watering became the norm. Twice a month to twice a week is a fourfold increase. That and the change in weather means it's not surprising that water bills soared.

After the jump, three graphs that show the story.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

High School Football Is Back: BHS 45, SGHS 35

From 2015 08 28 South Garland vs Berkner
It's only August and the thermometer is still pushing 100 degrees, but school is back in session. That can mean only one thing: it's time for high school football. The Berkner Rams opened their 2015 season in winning fashion, beating South Garland High School 45-35. The Rams led by 10 at halftime, then both teams traded score after score before the Rams recovered a South Garland fumble at the Rams' two yard line with less than a minute left to seal the win.

All the action, including the game, cheerleaders, drill team, colorguard, marching band and all the rest that make high school football the best value in sports entertainment, can be seen on Google Photos. Remember, without the band, it's just a game.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Iran: Yes or No? My Conversation with Mike Hashimoto

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial, "Make the Iran nuclear deal better, but don't scrap it" that I found to be, well, muddled.

Editorial board member Mike Hashimoto expanded on the editorial in a blog item, "Where does the ed board come down on Obama’s Iran deal? Read on." Sadly, I was no better off understanding the News's position after reading this. And even a Twitter conversation with Mike Hashimoto failed to enlighten me.

POTD: Saigon Motorbike Chic

From 2015 03 21 Saigon
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the streets of Saigon. There are motorbikes. Lots of motorbikes. Lots. Lots. Lots. Almost everyone on a motorbike wears a helmet. They also wear masks. Motorbike chic.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

It's August and that means it's time for Richardson budget roulette. Will the proposed city budget be balanced? You'd think that would be a simple question. Isn't the city required by law to have a balanced budget? Well, yes, but it all depends on the meaning of "balanced".

Last year when I looked at this question, I concluded that the city's 2014-2015 budget was indeed balanced and didn't require use of that sneaky asterisk ("plus reserved fund balance and other financing sources").

After the jump, reviewing that conclusion and looking ahead at 2015-2016.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Point and Shoot (2014)

Point and Shoot (2014): Thrill-seeker films motorcycle ride across North Africa. Returns to fight Gaddafi. Like watching a car wreck. B-

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Debt is Good

The Richardson City Council voted to hold an election in November to issue new bonds totaling $115 million. The four propositions residents will vote on:
  • Public Buildings - $67,000,000
  • Streets - $38,570,000
  • Parks - $7,230,000
  • Sidewalks - $2,200,000

I haven't studied the details, but the numbers seem to be in the right ballpark for my support. Should the total be a little more...or less? Perhaps. The total seems to be of a size that doesn't require a tax increase. That's important to many. Should buildings get less money and streets get more? Perhaps, if the money for streets goes not to building more streets but goes instead to filling potholes and reconfiguring existing streets to improve walkability. That's important to me. I'll have my ears open for discussions along these lines, but I expect that I'll support all four bond propositions regardless whether the numbers are exactly what I would have come up with myself.

There are some people who don't just want to fiddle with the numbers. They want to cut the numbers to zero. For them, debt is evil, or at least bad. This attitude provides us with another opportunity to challenge conventional wisdom. Public debt isn't evil. It's not even bad. In fact, debt is good.

Monday, August 24, 2015

POTD: Ben Thành Market

From 2015 03 21 Saigon
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Ben Thành Market, Saigon. It's a large, old marketplace popular with tourists and locals alike. Souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing, food (cooked and uncooked), all are available in this thriving market. The photo was taken in the street just outside the market building itself. Good times.

Friday, August 21, 2015

POTD: Opéra de Saigon

From 2015 03 21 Saigon
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Saigon. Sure, you're in southeast Asia. Sure, you're where a national tragedy for America played out, where so many lost their lives in a bitter war. But before that, Saigon was at heart a French city, perhaps nowhere more reminiscent of that than the Saigon Opera House, built in 1897 by a French architect in the style of Opéra Garnier in Paris. Today, here is a beautiful Vietnamese bride having her wedding photo taken in front of the theatre. Jarring images and thoughts.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl (2014): Troubled marriage. Dickish husband. Signs of violence. Missing wife. But where's the body? Top-notch mystery/thriller. B+

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

POTD: Louis Vuitton in Ho Chi Minh City

From 2015 03 21 Saigon
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Saigon. It's another one of the jarring images that are everywhere in today's Saigon, as free market reforms spread throughout this still communist country. Marxism-Leninism is making room for French fashion (and Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts and Popeyes fried chicken) on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2014)

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2014): Portrait of ordinary workers in world's coldest land. Stunning scenery. Endless night. Cabin Fever. T3. B+

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid:
Open quote 

Come, tell me, what were you looking for? Surely, at this time of day, only one thing could have brought you to the district of Old Anarkali -- named, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a prince -- and that is the quest for the perfect cup of tea. Have I guessed correctly?"

So begins a conversation between a young, bearded Pakistani and an unidentified, nervous American at a cafe in Lahore. After the jump, my review.

Friday, August 14, 2015

POTD: Check out the Rolls

From 2015 03 21 Saigon
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Saigon. See that woman selling some kind of rolls from a pan perched on the back of her bicycle? That's not the Rolls mentioned in the headline. Do you see what is? Behind the bike? That's a Rolls Royce parked in the street in Saigon. Luxury Rolls and bread rolls side by side. Such jarring images are everywhere in today's Saigon.

This isn't your father's Vietnam. It's hard to tell that the US didn't win the war. South Vietnam may have fallen, but the dominoes didn't. Look around Saigon today. Western culture is pervasive, not Russian or Chinese. Free market reforms are everywhere.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015): Moving portrait of a singer who not only reflected her times, but shaped them. Tragic personal life. A-

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

POTD: Cambodian School Bus

From 2015 03 20 Tonle Sap Lake
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the waterway northwest of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. It was taken in the afternoon in a floating village. School had just let out and the kids are headed home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ida (2013)

Ida (2013): Poland 1962. Orphan about to become a nun seeks her family, discovers she is Jewish. Tragic. Stoic. Lonely. Moving. "Then what?" B+

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers
From The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark:
Open quote 

The European continent was at peace on the morning of Sunday 28 June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek arrived at Sarajevo railway station. Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. The conflict that began that summer mobilized 65 million troops, claimed three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths, and 21 million wounded. The horrors of Europe's twentieth century were born of this catastrophe."

It's impossible to overestimate the importance of World War I. It's also impossible to wrap your head around how the five Great Powers allowed themselves to march into a disastrous war that all could see coming, yet none could find a way out of. No one had an exit strategy for the escalating July crisis. Christopher Clark writes the definitive account of how the crisis led to war. After the jump, my review.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

OTBR: A Bug in the New Mexico Desert

Latitude: N 34° 35.712
Longitude: W 106° 49.950

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".

Friday, August 7, 2015

POTD: Cambodian Commute

From 2015 03 20 Tonle Sap Lake
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the waterway northwest of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. It was taken in a floating village. Boats are the only means of transportation.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Multi-Use is not Mixed-Use

We've been through this before, but it's kinda my pet peeve, so here we go again. Steve Brown, real estate editor of The Dallas Morning News, breaks this news:
The new shopping center in the works at Richardson’s $1.5 billion CityLine development is getting a second phase. Developers of the project at the northeast corner of Plano and Renner roads have filed plans with the City of Richardson to add more than 20,000 square feet to the retail center which is already under construction. It's part of the 186-acre mixed-use development that includes State Farm Insurance's 4-story regional office campus.
Source: Steve Brown.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

POTD: Floating Banana Trees

From 2015 03 20 Tonle Sap Lake
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the waterway northwest of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. It was taken in a floating village. Not only the houses are built on bamboo rafts, even the gardens are. This photo shows floating banana trees. Good times.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014): Portrait of a creepy, night-shift TV news photographer. A bit better than watching local news itself for 2 hours. C+

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Wheel Award for Excellence in Motion Pictures

Oscar night is five months gone. "Birdman" was the Academy's pick for "Best Picture." I couldn't say at the time that it would be my pick for "best" movie of 2014 because I hadn't seen it yet. I hadn't seen most of the nominees at that time. Well, now that it's summer, I can finally say I've seen all of the Oscar nominees for "Best Picture" of 2014 and I can pick a winner. Can I get a drum roll?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Repeat Tweets: Instilling My Religious Liberty

Repeat tweets from July, 2015:

  • Jul 1 2015: "We are not issuing them because I am instilling my religious liberty in this office." Hood County Clerk Katie Lang
  • Jul 2 2015: "3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake." History you probably weren't taught in schools.
  • Jul 4 2015: Into the Woods (2014): Musical mashup of fairy tales. By the numbers. Who is target audience? Kids? Adults? Maybe Stephen Sondheim fans. C-
  • Jul 8 2015: "What we learn [from Greece] is that fiscal austerity plus hard money is a deeply toxic mix."
  • Jul 9 2015: Meanwhile, on Tea Party planet, @PeteSessions is "too willing to compromise on critical issues."

After the jump, more repeat tweets.