Saturday, October 31, 2015

GOP Debate: Bad Questions, Bad Answers

There has been a lot of commentary on the recent GOP presidential debate on CNBC. The Wheel doesn't usually do national politics, but we make an exception for this remarkable television show. First, let's look at the questions. Then, the answers. Then, the fallout.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Qualified Voter vs Registered Voter

Qualified voter vs registered voter. Is there a difference? Does it matter? It matters because Proposition No. 50 in the upcoming Richardson city charter amendment election changes the requirements for a person to serve as mayor or council member. The current charter requires a person to be a "registered" voter. The amended charter calls for a person to be a "qualified" voter.

One person in social media complained that the change "waters down" the requirements. Another (and by another I mean me) said the change, if anything, toughens the requirements. Who is right?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

POTD: Hanoi Tube Houses

From 2015 03 28 Hanoi

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Hanoi. It shows typical houses in central Hanoi, called tube houses. The explanation is that street frontage is expensive, encouraging homeowners to build deep rather than wide, tall rather than sprawl.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh

From Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh, by Mo Yan
Open quote 

Eggs were such a rare treat that the old women had to show us how to peel them first. Clumsily we peeled away the shells, only to find feathery little chicks inside. They chirped when we bit into them, and they bled. When we stopped eating, the old women took switches to us and demanded that we keep eating. We did."

Yikes! Reading these short stories, the reader quickly realizes that we're not in Kansas anymore. We're in China at the hands of one of China's most acclaimed authors, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mo Yan.

After the jump, my review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

POTD: Ethnology

From 2015 03 28 Hanoi
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Hanoi. It shows a treasure I found in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Strong Mayor for Richardson

Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer thinks he knows why the City of Dallas can't get big things done. It's the weak mayor.
By tightly husbanding control of the city in the office of city manager -- a person hired, not elected -- the city fathers here have maintained their own access while effectively shutting off access for the larger electorate. It's not that voters can't ever get anything done, but they can only get little things done, on the scale of new stop signs and storm sewer repairs.

To get big things done, like a grand public vision for the river, we would have to have what Houston has -- a strong mayor system. To accomplish a great dream, a city needs someone at the helm who can steer a course but who also can be kicked off the ship if he steers a course the public doesn't want.
Given that Richardson's council-manager form of government (a.k.a. weak mayor) is similar to that in Dallas (originally, our city charter was based on Dallas's of the time), and given that Richardson voters are about to decide whether to amend our city charter, it's probably worth a moment of our time to think about Schutze's thesis.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan (2014): Things are not good in Russia. Petty corruption, family dysfunction & of course vodka. Book of Job on the Barents Sea. B+

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Texas Prop 6: The Right to Hunt

The Wheel hasn't made recommendations for the Texas State Constitutional amendments on the November 3rd ballot. But there is one recommendation we read that is too good not to pass on. Besides telling you how to vote (or not), it explains the time wasted by the Texas legislature pandering to the base.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

POTD: Ho Chi Minh?

From 2015 03 28 Hanoi
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Hanoi. It shows Ho Chi Minh. Or Colonel Sanders. Or maybe just some random Vietnamese guy riding his bike. You decide. By the way, it's probably easier to find a photo of Colonel Sanders in Hanoi than a photo of Ho Chi Minh. KFC restaurants are everywhere.

In the background is the Maison Centrale (Central House), also known as Hoa Lo Prison, built by the French in the late 1880s to hold Vietnamese political prisoners agitating for independence. But that's not the name Americans know it by. It was known as the "Hanoi Hilton" by American prisoners-of-war during the Vietnam War. Today, what's left of it is a museum.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prohibiting Public Input

Ken Hutchenrider, chairman of the Richardson Vote YES Campaign Committee, explains why he thinks it's necessary to amend the city charter to prohibit public input at emergency city council meetings.
Another change grants the City Council the right to prohibit public input when it calls an emergency meeting. An emergency Council meeting has been called only once in recent history, and that was when the City agreed to house and offer services to refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It seems appropriate for the Council to keep its focus on the issue at hand when it is an emergency.
He chose the wrong example. I can't think of an emergency more in need of public input than an offer by the city to house refugees in our community. Where? How many? How long? All questions for which public input could be critical in getting the answers right. Surely, Richardson's reaction to this emergency wouldn't have been negatively impacted due to a short delay to let Richardson residents speak to the council before the council acted.

Monday, October 19, 2015

There's a new blog about Richardson politics: (Kudos on the domain name. I'm surprised it was still available.) The blog claims to be "created by and for the fine people of Richardson, Texas." (OK, fine. Don't name names.)

What will the blog be about? It says, "Here we discuss issues that affect our quality of life, our pocketbooks, and our rights as citizens. What we have discovered has taken years of research, dogged determination in digging up the facts behind the stories, and collecting documented evidence that can help protect our lifestyle and the city we have come to love." (If that reads a little like someone who writes prolifically on Facebook, well, maybe yes, maybe no. She doesn't say.)

Will the new blog have something to say? Certainly. Will it add anything of value? That remains to be seen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Aurora: Light, Video & Sound

From 2015 10 16 Dallas Aurora
Aurora, a one-night-every-two-years event in the Dallas Arts District, bills itself as "An Immersive Free Public Art Event of Light, Video & Sound." That really doesn't tell you what Aurora is all about but it's about as accurate a description as any I could give. It was certainly popular. Some people say it was too popular for its own good, which reminds me of the quote from the late, great Yogi Berra: "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

The city had traffic barricades aplenty. Perhaps a big map/sign in each block would have helped orient those who just stumbled upon this without knowing what was what. We had done some homework before going so we sort of knew what to expect and just kind of wandered the Arts District. Serendipity worked well for us.

We had a great time. We ate before we went. We rode DART. We strolled the whole Arts District without worrying too much about trying to see things with long lines. Instead, we found things like the young singers in the Booker T. Washington courtyard theater. Uncrowded, relaxing, beautiful.

Two thumbs up from us.

More photos after the jump.

Friday, October 16, 2015

City Charter Amendments: Upon Further Review

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Source: Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The League of Women Voters of Richardson hosted a panel discussion on October 14 about the upcoming Richardson city charter amendments election. Dr. Robert Lowry of UT-Dallas and Dr Matthew Wilson of SMU discussed the pros and cons of many of the 83 propositions on November's ballot.

And, just to show I was listening, and just to show that old dogs are capable of learning new tricks, I actually changed my mind on a few of the propositions.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Outdoor Lights Don't Deter Crime

There, I said it. Bear with me. I'll walk back that counter-intuitive statement in a bit. But only a little.

Regularly I read on Facebook or Nextdoor or in chain emails a call for everyone to keep their porch lights on overnight. Or for the city to install more street lights. The following is a typical example:
Some people regularly turn porch lights off when going to bed. I'm always amazed driving through neighborhoods and no exterior lights are on. It's one little thing we can do to maybe deter a crime. Having a well lit exterior just sends a signal that we care and are watching.
Source: Facebook.
This is repeated so often that most people just assume it must be good advice. I, on the other hand, have never been convinced of the logic of this. I've suspected that street lighting might even do more harm than good. But I didn't have the facts. Now I do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Rosewater (2014)

Rosewater (2014): Jon Stewart's pet project. Shows Iran is evil and Stewart is the best of his class. Good movie. Important message. A-

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

POTD: Vietnamese Tombs

From 2015 03 26 Halong Bay

Today's photo-of-the-day is from northern Vietnam. It shows a farmer at work in his field. Behind him are family tombs. I'm no expert on Vietnamese burial practices, but from what I've read, when someone dies, their body is buried in their rice field for three years, after which it is exhumed and moved to a family cemetery. I heard two different reasons for this practice. One is religious. The time in the first tomb is used by the deceased to earn the right to be buried in the family cemetery. The other reason is more practical. The tomb in the family's rice field denotes clear ownership of the field. But the family doesn't want to take up too much of their rice field, so the burials are only temporary. If I've insulted anyone with a mistaken understanding of local culture, I apologize. Personally, I found the practice both moving and visually compelling.

Monday, October 12, 2015


In his great biography of Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson describes how Franklin fundamentally changed America, bringing Puritanism "into an Enlightenment era that exalted tolerance, individual merit, civic virtue, good deeds, and rationality." I used to think all Americans since Franklin shared those values. Used to. I changed my mind long ago.
I'm a go-along, get-along kind of guy. Cooperate. Compromise. Consensus. Win-win. It's the way I was raised. When I was young, I used to think it was the American way. One nation. E Pluribus Unum. Melting pot. I'm learning not to be so naive, but I'm still caught off guard when I run across people to whom a preference for compromise or tolerance is considered a character flaw.
Source: Mark Steger.
I wrote that in 2012. I'm back today with another realization that rocks my childhood understanding of the values that I just assumed all Americans shared.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lake Highlands 37, Richardson 22

From 2015 10 09 Lake Highlands vs Richardson
The Lake Highlands Wildcats improved their District 10-6A record to 3-0 with a hard-fought 37-22 win over Richardson Friday night, spoiling Richardson's Homecoming. Richardson drops to 1-2.

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.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

POTD: Tomorrow Never Dies

From 2015 03 26 Halong Bay

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring thousands of large karst islands.

It's also where James Bond tracks down the stealth ship of the villain in 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies", although due to difficulties getting permission to film there, that scene was actually filmed in Thailand. :-(

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Edgar Sawtelle
From The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
Open quote 

"My gramma’s like me. Wanna know what my gramma says? ... She says that before you were born, God told you a secret he didn't want anyone else to know."

That's a small girl talking to Edgar, a boy born mute who may carry a heavy secret in his heart, a secret that will lead to tragedy unless he finds a way to deal with his knowledge.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Charter Amendments: Vote Yes AND No

There's an election in Texas on Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Early voting begins Monday, October 19. Among other things, there are 83 propositions for amendments to the Richardson city charter.

There's a "Vote YES" side that argues that the charter updates are long overdue, with some of them needed to clean up unintended consequences from the changes for direct election of the mayor approved in 2012, and others needed to get the city charter in conformance with state and federal law. This side wants you to vote "YES" to every single one of the 83 amendments. This side's spokesman is Bill Sproull, who happens to be president of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, although he's heading up the "Vote YES" campaign in a private capacity Ken Hutchenrider, chairman of the Richardson Vote YES Campaign Committee.

And there's a "Vote NO" side that doesn't like how the charter review process was conducted, thinks the charter amendments are designed to legalize sketchy business practices, and, well, doesn't like pretty much anything the city does. This side's spokesman is the rebellious biker Johnny played by Marlon Brando in the movie "The Wild One".
Mildred: "Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"
Johnny: "Whadda you got?"
Source: The Wild One.
I'm here to help you navigate between these all-or-nothing positions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Missing Review. Missing Petition.

Don't get into online arguments. No one ever changes his mind. No one ever wins. Good advice? Yes, as far as it goes. But what if winning isn't the only goal? Sometimes there's value in just understanding the root of a disagreement, even if no one changes his mind. If the discussion leaves you comfortable with the foundation of your argument, then you can feel comfortable with what you build on that foundation. The argument over Richardson's upcoming charter amendment election is a case in point.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

POTD: Mausoleum of Khai Dinh

From 2015 03 24 Hue
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Hue, Vietnam. It's the mausoleum of Khai Dinh (1885-1925), the 12th king of the Nguyen Dynasty. There's more to Vietnamese history than the war.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

OTBR: Piojo Ranch in New Mexico

Latitude: N 35° 48.582
Longitude: W 104° 58.998

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".

POTD: Incense at Thien Mu Pagoda

From 2015 03 24 Hue

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the 400-year-old Thiên Mu Pagoda in Hué, Vietnam. It sits on a hill on a bend of the Huong (Perfume) River. The seven-story pagoda is one of the tallest religious buildings in Vietnam.

"A building near the rear of the complex houses a national relic: the car in which the monk Thich Quang Duc rode from his temple to Saigon on June 11, 1963. He stepped out of the car in an intersection, sat down in the lotus position, and burned himself to death in protest against the regime's violations of religious freedom." --

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Football: Lake Highlands 63, Mesquite 28

From 2015 10 02 Mesquite vs Lake Highlands
The Lake Highlands Wildcats improved their District 10-6A record to 2-0 with a dominating 63-28 win over Mesquite Friday night. Mesquite drops to 0-2.

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.

Repeat Tweets: Blocked Punt for a Touchdown

Repeat tweets from September, 2015:

  • Sep 3 2015: Blocked punt for a touchdown by Berkner with 30 seconds left sends this game to overtime. Naaman Forest 30, Berkner 30. #txhsfb @BerknerHS
  • Sep 3 2015: Final in overtime: Garland Naaman Forest 30, Berkner 33. It's a great time to be a Ram! #txhsfb @BerknerHS
  • Sep 4 2015: 173,000 new jobs in August. Unemployment lowest since March, 2008. Wait for @PeteSessions's statement blaming Obama.
  • Sep 5 2015: Surprising and heartwarming reaction in Germany to refugees. Boosts my faith in humanity.
  • Sep 7 2015: Dallas Morning News Defensive player of the week: Berkner's John Lewis. If you missed the game, sucks for you.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities: Plano and Richardson

My inbox contained one of those civic booster stories that reads like something the real estate business is always generating: "Downtown Plano recognized as one of 'Great Places in America'". You read that right. Plano. It turns out that, beneath the hype, there are some secrets to success worth emulating. The story highlights the downtown DART station (public transit), the 1,000 residential units nearby (density), and streets redesigned to be cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly (walkability). Saying it's one of the "Great Places in America" might be over the top, but Richardson would be foolish not to recognize the good things happening just to our north.