Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2019)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2019): Documentary about death of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian who spied for Israel in Oct '73 war, or was he a double-agent? Oddly, both countries today consider him a hero. A gripping detective story, a war history, and an enduring mystery. B-

Monday, April 29, 2019

Building Trust

This article was originally published in "Richardson Living" magazine. Read it on that website or read it here. Or read it in print. In mail boxes now.

When it was unveiled in 2013, an artist's rendering for the massive mixed-use Palisades development included a feature that was never built: a pedestrian bridge over US 75 to the Galatyn Park DART station. I personally loved that feature. But people did not love another feature, one that did get built: hundreds of new apartments. This happened despite the campaign statement by then mayoral candidate Laura Maczka (now Laura Jordan) that we don't need apartments near neighborhoods, and despite overwhelming neighborhood opposition during public hearings.

How did we end up in this situation anyway? Suspicion fell on Mayor Maczka and her personal relationship with the developer Mark Jordan. Eventually, evidence uncovered during an FBI investigation resulted in bribery convictions. Development of Palisades now appears to be stalled, with those apartments built but retail and offices lagging. The City is left with a big black eye.

Friday, April 26, 2019

POTD: Room after Room after Room

From 2018 08 14 Peterhof

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Peterhof, the St. Petersburg palace built by Peter the Great of Russia. It shows a hallway that runs along the length of the palace. Actually, it's not a separate hallway at all. More like a series of doors that connect all the rooms. Walking through them, you go through room after room after room. It's quite unlike modern buildings, like hotels, where the hallway is like a spine and the rooms are all off to the side like ribs. I guess that's because the occupants of the palace owned *all* the rooms so there was no need to keep them separate for privacy as one walks around the palace. Or maybe there's another reason that historical architects might be able to explain.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf
From Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James:
Open quote 

The child is dead. There is nothing left to know. I hear there is a queen in the south who kills the man who brings her bad news. So when I give word of the boy’s death, do I write my own death with it? Truth eats lies just as the crocodile eats the moon, and yet my witness is the same today as it will be tomorrow. No, I did not kill him."

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an epic African fantasy. It's been described as an African "Game of Thrones." Don't believe it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

POTD: Battle of Chesme

From 2018 08 14 Peterhof

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Peterhof, the St. Petersburg palace built by Peter the Great of Russia. It's a roomful of paintings, one of many such rooms in the many palaces of St. Petersburg. The particular painting that caught my eye is in the upper right of this photo. I noticed it because we had done some homework before our visit to Russia. The Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) played a part in a Russian television drama, Ekaterina, about the life of Catherine the Great. The painting shows the destruction of the Turkish fleet during the naval Battle of Chesme on 5-7 July 1770. The artist, Jakob Philipp Hackert, who was commissioned to commemorate the great Russian victory in a painting, was not present during the battle so in order that he could imagine the scene a Russian ship was exploded in the port of Livorno, Italy, for him to witness and paint from. Could that make this the most expensive painting ever commissioned?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Building Trust: The Candidates Speak

This Q&A was originally published on the "Richardson Living" website. The candidates’ answers were untouched, minus a few minor grammatical changes for clarity and readability.

Richardson's former mayor Laura Maczka (now Jordan) was convicted of bribery over the Palisades land development. That development now appears to be stalled, with apartments built but retail and offices nowhere on the horizon, despite a hot commercial real estate market in Richardson. All of this leaves the City with a black eye. Where do we go from here? The candidates for Richardson City Council answer two questions.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Wheel's City Council Voters Guide

Election day for Richardson City Council is Saturday, May 4, 2019. Early voting runs from Monday, April 22, 2019, until Tuesday, April 30, 2019. I attended candidate forums so you didn't have to (you're welcome). I've kept an open mind, but now I have to decide how to fill out my own ballot. It wasn't an easy decision. Pros and cons were unusually balanced this year. You may disagree with my decisions. That's OK. But if I got wrong any of the facts that informed my decisions, that's not OK. I want to hear about factual errors so I can correct things. The only decision that really matters is the one I make when I enter the voting booth.

For those without the patience to read the reasoning that informed my opinions, here's the bottom line.

  • Place 1: Jason Clarke
  • Place 2: Uncontested
  • Place 3: Janet DePuy
  • Place 4: Kyle Kepner
  • Place 5: Ken Hutchenrider
  • Place 6: Uncontested
  • Mayor: Uncontested

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Place 3 Forum @ The Forum

A meet-and-greet was held Friday afternoon for the Richardson Place 3 City Council candidates at The Forum Club on the upper level of the Shops at Promenade. Dan Barrios, Franklin Byrd, and Janet DePuy met and mingled with about 30 people in this Cheers-like neighborhood bar. Raymond De Guzman, Sr., and Mauri Long also made appearances.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Of Bimbos, Dicks, and Pieces of Shit

The above two tweets were made by two candidates for Richardson's upcoming City Council election. I consider the tweets disqualifying in themselves, but especially so given the responses made by these two candidates after the recent embarrassment the City suffered over a City Council member's own use of social media.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Final Impressions of City Council Candidates

The League of Women Voters of Richardson held a forum for Richardson City Council candidates Wednesday evening at the Richardson Civic Center. About 200 people turned out to hear the candidates answer questions from voters. The threat of storms might have kept some people away, but the off-chance of fireworks on stage might have limited the no-shows. It turned out that the storms stayed away and the fireworks show turned into more of a comedy club as most candidates made a confession of their own run-in with Richardson Code Enforcement. I won't spoil their material. The video from the forum is available on the City's website. You can just watch their comedy sets yourselves. Let me just say that all the candidates seemed genuinely friendly with each other.

Once again, rather than provide a question-by-question account of the evening, I am going to present only the highlights, both roses and thorns, for each candidate.

(As for my earlier impressions of the candidates, from an earlier forum, they can be read elsewhere.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Shirkers (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
Shirkers (2018): Documentary about making of a movie in Singapore in '92 by young filmmakers and a charismatic mentor who disappears with the raw footage. Their youthful passion comes through 25 years later in this engrossing detective story about a cult movie that never was. B+

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

POTD: Self Portrait

From 2018 08 14 Peterhof

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Peterhof, the St. Petersburg palace built by Peter the Great of Russia. It's a self portrait taken by Ellen. That's the two of us entangled in the candle holders of the gilt mirror frame. We could only imagine the effect at night in the 1700s when the gilt ballroom was lined with such mirrors and all the candles were lit and a royal ball was in progress. Oh, and our reflections would still be present of course.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

POTD: Peterhof Gilt Ballroom

From 2018 08 14 Peterhof

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Peterhof, the St. Petersburg palace built by Peter the Great of Russia. Originally intended as a summer retreat, Peter the Great happened to visit the French royal court in 1717 and came home with ideas to rival Versailles. The result? Peterhof.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Vanity Fair (TV 2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
Vanity Fair (TV 2018): Modern adaptation of Thackeray's satire of Victorian London. Ambitious social climber Becky Sharp is a charming knave who looks directly at the camera and winks as she schemes and betrays. Makes me want to read the original. B+

Saturday, April 13, 2019

It's All Partisan Now

Much has been made in Richardson's City Council election about the presence of party politics in a supposedly non-partisan election. The subject took up way too much space in my own latest blog article. So why am I devoting an entire blog article to it? Because I think what's happening in Plano puts the issue to bed in Richardson once and for all. Like it or not, once the governor of Texas jumps into the fray, the field is open for all.

Friday, April 12, 2019

More Impressions of City Council Candidates

The candidates for Richardson City Council answered questions from the public at a forum sponsored by the JJ Pearce, Canyon Creek, and Reservation neighborhood associations. The forum was held at Mohawk Elementary School. About fifty people attended. Everyone was civil. (That last point should go without saying, but in today's political climate, you never know.)

Rather than provide a question-by-question account of the evening, I am going to present only the highlights that I found provocative.

(As for my first impressions of the candidates, from an earlier forum, they can be read elsewhere.)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

POTD: Cossack Dancers

From 2018 08 13 St Petersburg

Today's photo-of-the-day is of Cossack dancers in St. Petersburg, Russia. I could tell you of the military tradition of the Cossacks, of how they allied with the tsars of Russia to conquer and colonize the length of the Volga and beyond the Urals to Siberia. Buy nyah. All anyone really wants to see today are those amazing dancers.

A bonus photo after the jump.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

POTD: The Winter Palace

From 2018 08 13 St Petersburg

Today's photo-of-the-day is of the Winter Palace as seen from Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia. If I had to pick a single spot that represents Russia to me, it would be right here. Or perhaps some spot in the Kremlin or Red Square in Moscow. Let's say right here for Russian history as a whole and the Moscow Kremlin for Soviet history. How's that for the having it both ways?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018). It feels wrong to review this Michael Moore documentary because he's not just making a movie. He's warning of an existential threat to the American Republic. He shows bright spots of good guys fighting back, but he warns that it's not enough. B-

Monday, April 8, 2019

POTD: Soviet Decay

From 2018 08 13 St Petersburg

Today's photo-of-the-day is from St. Petersburg, Russia. It shows an abandoned building from the Soviet era. There are plenty of reminders around St. Petersburg of the failure of that system. Once as we drove through the city, I said something like, "This neighborhood looks prosperous" and Ellen replied, "Do you mean the windows aren't all broken?" Still, we loved St. Petersburg as a whole.

A bonus photo after the jump.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Gun McNutt

The last time these pages had to talk about Chris McNutt was November 26, 2018. Well, he's baaack.

According to The Houston Chronicle,
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen says Texas state troopers had his home in Lake Jackson under surveillance last week amid concerns that an outraged gun rights activist was headed there.

Chris McNutt, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Gun Rights, is advocating for a "constitutional carry" bill that would allow gun owners to carry their pistols, openly or concealed, in public without a license.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Fyre (2019)

Rotten Tomatoes
Fyre (2019): Documentary of a music festival on a private island in Bahamas that turned into a clusterf*ck. Behind it? A giant con, where luxury was sold up front w/o ability to deliver. A producer of the doc also produced the Fyre Festival promotional video. The con goes on. B-

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Equity in RISD

"In an effort to ensure every student performs at or above grade level, the Equity Action Team developed an action plan to recommend the drafting and potential Board approval of an Equity Policy in RISD. An overview of the committee’s process will be presented as well as a preliminary draft of the current Equity Policy. Next steps will be discussed as well as a timeline for policy recommendation."

That's the agenda item for last week's Richardson ISD board of trustees meeting. OK, I'm in favor of what RISD is attempting here, so don't take what I have to say as criticism of the goal. If you must, take it as a reason why I should never be appointed to one of these committees.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Highwaymen (2019)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Highwaymen (2019): Two retired Texas Rangers track down Bonnie and Clyde. This pair is less charismatic than the outlaws, but Costner/Harrelson can carry a movie. They are always a little too late on the scene, making for a slow movie. Seeing Texas in the 1930s is a treat. B-

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Not So Fast with that RISD Election

Just when I thought the Richardson ISD's transition to trustee elections with single-member-districts was a done deal, with only a few details to be decided by the board of trustees, someone throws a wrench in the works. In this case, it's our newly elected Texas House District 102 Representative Ana-Maria Ramos.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Idle Thoughts: Russian Doll

Tweets from March, 2019:
  • Mar 4 2019: Russian Doll (TV 2019): Brash New Yorker is caught in looping, connected timelines as she keeps dying and rebooting at her birthday party. Quirky, original, absolutely captivating, with a satisfying ending as well. Can't wait for Season 2, but where can Natasha Lyonne take it? A+
  • Mar 6 2019: Do you want to be scared out of your mind? Read this:
    "Far-Right Climate Denial Is Scary. Far-Right Climate Acceptance Might Be Scarier".
  • Mar 7 2019: "I alone can fix this." -- candidate Donald Trump, 2016.
    Now in 2019...
    Government shutdown.
    Historic budget deficits.
    Growing trade deficits.
    Spiking numbers of family refugees.
    North Korea rearming.
    Tired of the winning yet?

After the jump, more idle thoughts.