Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice Everybody!

Best wishes and holiday cheer to all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

City: put your cash in our box rather than in a homeless person's hand

The city of Dallas is actually launching a campaign requesting people to not give money to panhandlers downtown, and to put money in "lend a hand" drop boxes instead. I guess it's a supply-side approach to panhandling. This is in the effort to "make people feel safer downtown." I know the city is really trying to address the problem of chronic homelessness with the new downtown assistance center, but sometimes they do some wacky stuff like this. It reminds me of Laura Miller's suggestion of making it illegal to give money to panhandlers. I swear I think if the city council could outlaw the presence of homeless people they would.

Many City Council members further argue that giving money to homeless panhandlers doesn't usually help them solve the underlying problems causing their homelessness.

FYI city council - on occassions when I give money to homeless people, I have no illusions that it is helping them solve any underlying problem. I am hopefully helping them to get some food. Granted they could use this money for booze or drugs or some other means of easing their pain which only adds to their problem. That is a risk I take. That is the reason I support the efforts of Austin Street Shelter, the Stewpot, and the city's new Homeless Assistance Center which can help to address underlying problems of homelessness.

I doubt the city's new measure will have much impact. There will still be homeless downtown and they will still ask for money. And we'll have these "drop boxes" downtown that will remind us to blow off the invisible people around us. The best thing the city and downtown businesses can do to make people feel safer is to continue the increased Downtown Patrol efforts (at least it seems stepped up to me), increase DART police presence at train stations, and keep attracting more people downtown.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christian nation indeed

Here are two very good opinion pieces about the hypocrisy of the religious right, just in time for Christmas.

Today Harold Meyerson writes in the Washington Post about "Hard Liners for Jesus." Things like Bush advocating torture and preemptive war yet touting Jesus as his favorite philosopher (although to be fair that was before 9/11 "changed everything" so maybe he swapped out Jesus for a more war-friendly philosopher). Meyerson also has good thoughts about the treatment of immigrants, which is of great concern to Judaism and Christianity: "the distinctive cry coming from the Republican base this year isn't simply to control the flow of immigrants across our borders but to punish the undocumented immigrants already here, children and parents alike." (Huckabee is actually on the "more Christian" side of that issue.)

Last week Judith Warner had a blog post titled Holier Than They in which she discusses what exactly is so Christian about the policies and platform of the GOP: opposition to progressive taxation and programs for the needy, attitudes toward gays, etc. But how about this from Barack Obama:

“We cannot abandon the field of religious discourse,” Barack Obama, the most eloquently convincing of them all, said back in June of 2006. “Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.”

Another observation:
The Christian conservative vote is, apparently, splintering. Younger evangelicals are increasingly said to be interested in putting their faith to greater use than bashing gays, promoting guns and putting God on the presidential ticket. That would seem to indicate that we’re facing a moment of opportunity: a chance to expand and amplify the reach of the voice of religious moderation. The silence I’m hearing makes me think, though, that as a society we’ve come to accept the slippage of prejudicial and hateful attitudes into religious doctrine as somehow normal. Whether that’s due to cynicism or due to cowardice, it’s very troubling.

Warner rightly faults Huckabee for some of his less charitable moments, but Huckabee's surge is due to some of the splintering we're seeing. The other candidates are cynically pandering for the evangelical vote, whereas Huckabee is a true believer and presents a more hopeful message. I'm hopeful that maybe the cynicism and cowardice has had its day and that the country is ready to move beyond it. Now it's time for the Obamas and the Huckabees and those who look toward a better future to step in the gap. (Regardless of his tone, though, Huckabee is essentially a fundamentalist and I'd have trouble trusting him for that reason alone.)

God, guns and gays doesn't quite get it anymore, and that's a good thing for this country. Let's hope we can really listen to Bush's favorite philosopher and try to love our neighbors as ourselves, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, and give a voice to the voiceless. In our personal lives and in our society. It's hard but it's worth working toward.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Maybe the crazies aren't taking over

Perhaps I underestimated my fellow citizens last week. It appears that several of us are ready for America to reclaim the moral high ground, as witnessed in these letters to the editor regarding Mark Davis' pro-torture column.

All good thoughts; I especially like this one:

Mark Davis deserves credit for doing something that no other conservatives have dared to do – admit that they are pro-torture. He throws in the anecdotal ticking time bomb scenario as a rationalization, but that does little more than complete his transition to moral relativism.

When did the GOP become the party of people so afraid of everything that they are willing to sell out our beloved American way of life?

Ben Berry, Silver Spring, Md.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The homeless downtown

I'll admit it doesn't take much, but Jim Schutze's column this week had me a little misty-eyed on the train Wednesday evening. He explores the complex problem of homelessness in downtown Dallas. I see some of these folks every day, and sometimes I say hello and sometimes I buy a Street Zine, but mostly they are the forgotten of our city. Just go read it.

Rev. Clifford at First Presbyterian, whose church stepped in the breach to provide sanctuary at night to the homeless population, is truly doing God's work.

Clifford is clear why he believes the church must take that step: "They have to have someplace to go," he said. "They have been our congregation for 32 years at the Stewpot," the church's soup kitchen mission.

"We are called to serve them. They are the least of these in our community, and Jesus has taken up residence with them, according to the gospel, and he is to be found in their midst. We exist to serve Christ, and according to Matthew 25, that's where Christ is, so we serve them."

Thanks for reminding us, Dr. Clifford.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

DMN takes advice of Filibuster Vigilantly

Someone's listening. The Morning News did an above-the-fold front page story - a well-reported one at that - on the evolution debate that is ensuing at the TEA. It does not give me good vibes though. The board is chaired by Perry appointee Don McLeroy who thinks that his version of religion has a place in the science classroom.

Specifically the new tactic of the flat earth folks is to "show both sides of the evolution debate." They want our science teachers to poke holes in the theory that underpins biology science. Pardon me, I am not a scientist, but isn't this a little like showing both sides of the debate that the Holocaust occurred? "Showing both sides" sounds so fair doesn't it? Don't let the fair sounding words fool you.

The board needs to listen to the scientists from Texas' leading institutions of higher education, who issued a statement earlier in the week stressing the importance of evolution education.

They should also listen to these folks: Christian clergy in support of teaching evolution. The rector of my old parish in New Jersey is a signator (and I see here that my current priest is as well - bravo). Science and religion need not be at odds here.

And they should listen to Chris Comer, the science curriculum director who was forced to resign due to her support for evolution education:
"Any science teacher worth their salt that has any background in biology will tell you there is no controversy," said Ms. Comer, a mother of two grown children. "It is time for America to grow up."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oops, I peeked at a Mark Davis column

First of all, Mark Davis is a buffoon. In fact, he's a cartoon of a buffoon. It's his schtick I guess. North Texas' own Bill O'Reilly. This is not news. If you don’t know this, count yourself blessed that you’ve not read his preposterous bunk on the Viewpoints page of the DMN – once or twice a week folks. (They had to have something to take the place of Murchison’s gems I guess.)

Most of the time I just ignore Davis and go about my merry way because he’s really not worth bothering with. I broke my own rule this morning and I wish I hadn’t. In this morning’s column, Davis gives the classic neocon defense of torture: “it saves American lives.” This is in reaction to new revelations from former CIA agent John Kiriakou that the CIA used waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah of 9/11 fame. And apparently this waterboarding did lead to actionable intelligence. So Davis thinks it’s great. We should do more of it apparently. He dismisses the moral argument that “we’re better than that” as perverse. Isn’t Davis' blusterment just a simple case of the end justifying the means? We should be better than that, but I don’t think we are. Not anymore. I have the feeling that much of the populace would agree with Davis.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague who stated the old saw about the Iraq war that at least we’re fighting them over there rather than over here. OK, ignore for a minute the fact that our presence in Iraq has actually increased anti-US sentiment in the world as well as the number of terrorists. But this essentially says that it is OK to attack a country that has not attacked us and poses no imminent threat, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians and sparking a civil war, so long as it makes us feel safe. End justifies means. I used to think we were better than that.

Kiriakou now says that this CIA sanctioned torture compromised American principles and saved American lives. Davis’ simplistic red white and blue worldview does not allow him to think that those two things can coexist. Well they can Mr. Davis. And they do. And as long as we as a nation are comfortable with compromising our principles in order to save lives, then we have made a choice that the end justifies the means.

God have mercy on us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Huckabee phenomenon

Frank Rich at The New York Times has a different idea of why Mike Huckabee is surging in the polls. The general media refrain is that this is the reasserting of the evangelical vote. They've found their guy.

The problem with that story is that Huckabee has been out there for some time and Romney's Mormonism hasn't been a secret. Likewise Rudy's filanderings and liberal views on gay rights and gun control likewise haven't been a secret. Rich sees Huckabee as the Barack Obama of the GOP: a hopeful and even somewhat bipartisan politician who is looking toward the future rather than fighting the battles of the past. Of course Huckabee lacks foreign policy cred and his denial of evolution is also perplexing.

To understand why he can’t be completely dismissed, consider last month’s Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll. Peter Hart, the Democratic half of the bipartisan team that conducts the survey, told me in an interview last week that an overwhelming majority of voters of both parties not only want change but also regard “reducing the partisan fighting in government” as high on their agenda. To his surprise, Mr. Hart found that there’s even a majority (59 percent) seeking a president who would help America in “regaining respect around the world.”

Most interesting is the parallel drawn by Rich between the 2008 election and 1960, Kennedy vs. Nixon. People are looking for real leadership as opposed to the cynical ideologies of the past seven years. The candidate that delivers that forward-looking leadership should be our next president. This gets me more jazzed about Obama.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can we get a lockbox for those carbon offsets?

Al Gore, who is doing yeoman's work on calling attention to global warming, overheard on NPR this morning: "The earth has a fever..." and I really wanted him to finish the sentence this way: "...and the only prescription is more cowbell."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mmmm... muffaletta

Looks like Jason's deli is coming downtown. They're getting all set up in the Gulf States building right next to CVS and Chase Bank. Sign on the door says grand opening is December 17. Judging by the crowd at the downtown Campisi's every day, I'd say another casual chain will do very well there.

Main and Akard is quite the happening place these days.

Where have all the hippies gone?

Answer: Uncle Calvin's Coffee House

I spent a very enjoyable evening taking in the big 25th anniversary show at the folk music venue at Northpark Presbyterian last Friday. One thing my group noticed early on: the crowd for folk music skews decidedly older. One older woman enjoyed herself so much she just had to blow bubbles. I guess she brings them along just in case the mood hits.

We suspended our objections to Calvinism, got all caffeinated up, and got ready for some mellow tunes and a few anti-war sing alongs. We were not disappointed. I really appreciated the traditional fiddle/mandolin/guitar style of opener Tracy Grammer and her accompanist Jim Henry. I could have listened to her all night. And that Jim Henry has some chops (guitar/mandolin). She sang a song about a soldier who died in Iraq that she has vowed to sing at every performance until the war ends. She also made the lyrics and chords available to anyone who wanted to join in that effort.

I guess Sara Hickman was the headliner, because she was last. Hickman did not disappoint. I had heard her before on the late great Glenn Mitchell's talk show. Her back-up singer was more in the front than the back. Hickman had some funny anecdotes to share between most of her songs, and you got the sense that she wanted to play for longer than her allotted 45 minutes. She was especially funny discussing the artwork on her current album which features a couple making love and a quote from Pope Benny on the back (she claims she's not a Catholic bad girl). It was fun to see her turn it up and "rock out" with just her guitar and accompanying vocalist near the end of the set.

But the shining star of the evening was sandwiched between these two. Ruthie Foster absolutely stole the show and had the audience eating out of her hands. Music lovers of any stripe would do well to go see her live. Apparently Foster has folk roots, but you wouldn't have known it. Her set was blues/R&B/gospel-tinged country and captivating. Her voice is strong but she does not oversing. Her command of the guitar was readily apparent; it was as if she were playing with her favorite toy. But the most memorable song was the a capella "People Grinnin' In Your Face" complete with audience-provided beat. We have downloaded her latest album The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster to our iPods and ordered two more copies for Christmas gifts.

All the artists came back together at the end for an audience sing-along. Good times, noodle salad.

I'm not sure this would accommodate the crowd for this particular show, but Uncle Calvins would benefit from some old couches and armchairs rather than the straight back chairs we were seated in. As befits our station in life as parents of the very young, we were dog tired by the time we got out of there at 11:30.

Thanks for a good time Uncle Calvin's, and Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"A series of personality cults"

That's how Frank Schaeffer describes evangelicalism, as pointed out in a column today by William McKenzie. As an East Texas boy who was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition (now recovering) I can concur. Lots of folks become attached to a charismatic leader rather than a faith. Then when that leader lets them down they have to find another charismatic leader to follow.

It is frightening the kinds of things people will believe if their chosen leader tells them. I had a college Sunday School teacher who taught on nothing but the end times and how current events were biblically prophesied. He was an obsessed man, and was an intelligent attorney but badly misguided. And he misled many others. This is a dangerous obsession, if it is not obvious, because people will stop trying to bring about peace and justice, stop caring for their fellow humans, and stop caring for God's creation. Because after all, God's judgement is about to come down hard and this earth will pass away.

Another great quote from Schaeffer regarding the big name evangelical leaders: "Big-time American Christianity is incompatible with the Gospel. It is part of the entertainment business. No matter what you think you are doing, you are really just another celebrity in a celebrity-obsessed culture."

Every church has its problems, including my spiritual home, The Episcopal Church, but I really like our emphasis on welcoming inclusiveness, social justice, and embodying God's Kingdom. In our baptismal covenant we promise "to seek and serve Christ in all persons." And our worship is centered not on preaching and sermons (or preachers), but on Eucharist: Thanksgiving, the holy meal that binds us together with Christ and each other and strengthens us for service to the world.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Kudos to DART

The trains weren't running on time this morning. But this time it was different. In the past when there have been problems with the rail system in morning rush hour, there are typically dozens of confused passengers standing around wondering what's going on, wondering why the message board doesn't work and why they can't understand the guy on the loudspeaker.

At White Rock Station this morning there was virtually no one waiting at the station, and there was a DART employee in bright yellow reflective vest who approached me and let me know about the problem at Cityplace and that there was bus service between Mockingbird and downtown for affected passengers. I drove in, but I didn't have to wait around and wonder what was going on and see a packed train pass by before I headed for my car.

Good job DART. Between this and the increased security at the park and rides and the commitment to order more bike lockers, I'd say this transit agency is trying to be customer service oriented. Now if they can keep the power lines from going down in the first place...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rodrigue gets knickers in bunch

The never ending saga of the Trinity river media wars continues today, with this manifesto from managing editor George Rodrigue outlining how pure and holy the Morning News' coverage of the Trinity toll road was. This is his justification for sitting on an important story leading up to the election.

Robert Wilonsky suggests we watch Unfair Park for Jim Schutze's imminent retort. Oh, and here it is, as I type.

As T.O. would say, getcha popcorn ready.

Creationism politics invade Austin

This story should have been on Page 1A of the Dallas Morning News, but alas the Cowboys played last night (very exciting game by the way) so that was splashed across the front page. But on page 8A is an Associated Press article about the resignation of Chris Comer, the state's science curriculum director.

The Austin American-Statesman covered the story so the News didn't have to be bothered:
Comer was put on 30 days paid administrative leave shortly after she forwarded an e-mail in late October announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest, author of "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," a book that says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Forrest was also a key witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case concerning the introduction of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania school district. Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, "FYI."

Agency officials cited the e-mail in a memo recommending her termination. They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, "it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science."

The memo adds, "Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral."

How can this happen in the 2nd most populous state in the US? In 2007? Based on this Comer didn't even advocate against teaching intelligent design in science class. Let's say she did, though. She's the "curriculum director." Sounds like part of the job to me. And keeping non-science intelligent design out of the science class would be doing the students of the state of Texas a service.

Let's examine that last line quoted from the memo: this is "a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." Why is that? What part of the mandate of TEA requires their curriculum people to be neutral regarding the content of what is taught? That is ridiculous. They need to remain neutral because its politically expedient and ticks the fewest people off. Here's an idea, have scientists develop the science curriculum. Leave the flat-earth people off the committee, no matter how loud they are.

Apparently the Austin Bureau of the News was busy finding a bar to watch the Cowboys game last night rather than writing this story. I can't even find it on their web site. The News is supposed to be "Texas' Leading Newspaper," by the way. And no, I'm not ready to cancel my subscription yet, but I think of it often.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getcha #2 pencils ready

Apparently there is a presidential election coming up. I've heard something about it. Anyhow, so far I've been most impressed by Barack Obama and John Edwards. This is after watching one of the first YouTube debates and reading newspapers, so take it for what it's worth.

I think Edwards might actually be a little too populist to win a general election. It's part of what I like about him, but the pragmatist in me doesn't like his odds. Senator Clinton does not excite me for some reason. It's not a strong woman thing; I just don't believe her. The words coming out of her mouth have no truthiness. She is too scripted and playing not to lose. And I think a Clinton candidacy gives the Republicans the best chance to win in 2008. That said, if she wins the nomination she's better than any of the GOP field save that wacky Ron Paul - the gold standard monetary system is crazy enough it (sarcasm).

So I've been leaning toward Obama, without really knowing too much about him other than he was opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning and has a charisma and hopeful message that seems to bring people together.

Since I hadn't really researched their positions thoroughly I thought I would do one of those online candidate quiz things. I chose the McNews (USA Today) quiz. It's not a bad quiz. Only asks you a handful of questions, and the best part is you can weight the issues that are more or less important to you with the slider bars on the right.

Apparently I've turned into a left wing wacko. Let's hope Mom doesn't find out - not until after Christmas at least. After answering the quiz and adjusting the weighting (experience not as important, Iraq and health care more important, etc.), my top three candidates are Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel (who?!), and Barack Obama. Edwards didn't even rank in the top 5. Good hair was not a criteria, a clear flaw with this quiz.

I had strong agreement with Obama's positions on tax reform, global warming, and Iraq. I don't think he's as bold as he needs to be on health care or same-sex marriage (that's where Kucinich and Gravel got lots of points from me). But maybe incremental gains are the way to go in those hot button areas.

As a pragmatist I'll stick with Obama for now. Of course there's lots of time between now and next November to waffle and flip flop and be generally indecisive. But I hope Obama does well in the early primaries/caucuses. It's nice to be a little excited about a candidate, and I hope Obama gives us reason to remain excited. If you are so inclined, take the quiz and let me know your results in the comments.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TX Monthly: Impeach Sharon Keller

Texas Monthly's Mike Hall is calling on the State Commission on Judicial Review to remove Judge Sharon Keller from the Court of Criminal Appeals. You may remember that Judge Keller denied to hear the appeal of Michael Richard because it would be filed after the court closed at 5:00. All this against the backdrop of the Supreme Court agreeing to weigh in on the constitutionality of lethal injection.

A man's life hung in the balance but Keller was determined to close the doors on time. It's time to show Judge Keller the door. She is an embarrassment to this state and the judicial system.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hope for rebirth in Ft. Worth

Writer Katie Sherrod gives us a good sense of what life is like for faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth, where she makes her home. I highlighted earlier the diocese's convention which would consider the first reading of a constitutional change to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church (it takes two annual votes for a constitutional change to take place).

This all stems from women's ordination, which has never been allowed or recognized in Ft. Worth, as well as TEC's welcoming stance toward gays and lesbians. Having a female Presiding Bishop (sort of the pastor in chief for The Episcopal Church) seems to be the last straw. Fort Worth seems to be moving to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone. (Follow the link; you won't be disappointed.)

Well, the amendment passed and now we wait. It won't be an easy journey for those who choose to remain Episcopalian in FW. From Katie's post:

So now we enter a time of terrible uncertainty, a time when pressures will increase exponentially on those few clergy who ain't leaving, and on lay people who are trying to understand all the ramifications of what their leadership is telling them.

In a sad way, I guess I'm glad we've finally reached this point. Maybe once the flames of all Bp. Iker's and his followers rage has burned out, and all the court cases are settled, those of us Episcopalians left can start over.

A new diocese will rise from these ashes. But getting from here to there is going to be a long hard painful journey.

I pray God will give us the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to overcome our history and create a new healthy place where all people can grow in God's love and grace.

Please pray for us.

Prayers for you and for the Church, Katie. May our national leadership have the wisdom to respond quickly and appropriately - and to help the remaining Episcopalians in Ft. Worth regain some certainty and a path forward.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blog window dressing

I wanted to point out the new artwork I have pasted onto my blog, just to add a little color. Looks like something I might enjoy in the actual physical realm. Anyhow, it's titled Live Horn Session 1 by Ginette Callaway.

After posting that I feel the need to listen to the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall on the way home today.

Texas: rootinest tootinest pollutinest

The Dallas Morning News gave us another example yesterday of how the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is promoting the interests of polluters rather than breathers (or as some like to call them, citizens). TCEQ is arguing that the EPA should not strengthen acceptable ozone limits, regardless of what the science says. This will continue to happen as long as we keep electing leaders who are in the pockets of the polluters and deny the science of climate change.

But there is evidence that we may be ever so slowly pulling our heads out of the sand. See this story from NPR this morning and you can see a glimmer of hope; it may take a new generation of voters and activism to get it done. We are set in our ways.

One good change the state is making – it is at least a step in the right direction – is to pull old polluting cars off the road. This program should roll out in January. Cynically, I think the only reason this got off the ground is that it benefits car dealerships. But if it also benefits air quality, then let’s give it a shot.

From the NPR story:
"Texas has had its head in the hot burning sands for quite some time," says Tom Smith, head of the Austin office of consumer group Public Citizen. "But now it's getting a little too hot and we're starting to look around to see what we can do about it."

UPDATE: Unfair Park linked to this story this morning as well, but Robert Wilonsky seems to be a little peeved at NPR stereotyping Texans. Or maybe he was being ironic. It's hard to tell!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Teach your children well

Was going to post about a ridiculous e-mail I received from Jeb Hensarling. There will be plenty more of those.

Today is to teach my 3-year old the joys of dancing to Queen and Talking Heads. He's teaching me the joys of building trains and eating raisins. Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Paging the Diocese of Ft. Worth

Snarky Friday comment
Says here that Ft. Worth is becoming a gay mecca. Bishop Iker will not be pleased to hear this.

By the way...
I have to put this on here. The Diocese of Ft. Worth is currently in convention considering amendments to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. They have been put on notice by Presiding Bishop Katharine. Sadly, it is best to get this over with, charge Iker with abandoning communion, and let the property battles commence. The lawyers are licking their chops. Father Jake has more.

Memo from my D-Spot (blush)

A couple of notes from downtown Dallas:

The downtown Chase Bank retail branch reads Now Open this morning! This is the only retail bank branch downtown per the DMN story, with the exception of a couple of credit unions. Up through yesterday the signs were taunting me with "coming soon." Yes it is silly to get excited about a bank branch in Dallas. They are on every corner in other parts of town. But downtown is becoming more residential and needs services like this and the adjacent new (and large) CVS.

The Christmas tree went up this week in Pegasus Plaza. I guess they have to get it up before they light it, and I assume the lighting will either be over the Thanksgiving weekend or at the December 1 Neiman Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade. But it still seems too early for Christmas trees. I plan on lamenting the early signs of Christmas every year until I'm too senile to care. By that time Frosty will be marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade.

Neimans is working on their window displays for Christmas. I would try to be a man's man and pretend I don't notice these things, but they come up with some pretty creative window displays there, so I'm curious as to what they will do this year.

The downtown safety patrol has been much more visible in the past couple of months, which is great for the neighborhood. This visible police presence helps make downtown feel like a safe place to be, which is important especially for residents and new businesses. These guys and gals are much more help to the area than the officer in the patrol car who gave me a traffic ticket for walking across the street on red back in February. (Seriously, that is a way to make downtown unwelcoming to pedestrians.)

The strange "where's your D-spot" campaign is in full swing, with brightly colored polka dots adorning empty store fronts. I'm not sure if the idea is to highlight that downtown has lots of empty store fronts or to attract trendy tenants who will think that odd question is cheeky and hip. But they are noticable. I guess we should hope the D-spot question is interpreted correctly by prospective tenants. Did Austin Powers work on this ad campaign? Just curious.

That is all for now. TGIF.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'm a Schutze fan and a Fat Tire man

OK, you all know by now that I'm a Jim Schutze disciple. I haven't stalked him though, swear. (Yet.)

Here is another winning column from the award winning columnist. And it's pure Schutze. It's funny, asks good questions, and it makes me feel good to be part of Cool Dallas, even if my neighborhood is just in close proximity to Cool Dallas.

This week in the continuing post-vote saga of the Trinity toll road, we learn that the Dallas Morning News suppressed information about the city possibly having to kick in more money for the road, per the chairman of the NTTA. The road that Mayor Leppert says will be paid for entirely with outside funding, save for a measly $84M from the original 1998 bond package. The DMN saved this info for the day after the vote, after sitting on it for a month.

But my favorite part of this column is in Schutze's life affirming "reverse snobbery" description of "cool Dallas:"

For one thing, Dallas has something in common with my native Detroit. It's not a destination destination. At least among those of us who have come here from elsewhere, it was never because we had always dreamed of living near the Trinity River. We came here for work, business, opportunity. This is a making-it city, not a scenic city.

So we got here, and then we collided with this odd and charming local culture–sort of Old South, kind of Midwest, tiny bit cowboy but always with one eye on New York. We met all these locals who have deep-rooted culture and good manners. And somewhere out of our collision, from the sparks and smoke a Dallas emerged that is cool.

Cheers to that, Jim!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green building standards coming to Big D

We need some good news, folks. And I read some yesterday in the Dallas Business Journal. The first snippet of the article is here (the rest is only for print subscribers so la-di-da).

But you get the gist from the first bit. The city is going to implement green building standards city wide for new commercial and residential building. There is a task force that is studying the issue and will be reporting back to the city council in March. Let's hope we get some standards that will really make a difference and not something watered down.

Of course there is concern that regulations like these will make Dallas less competitive with our neighbors for new construction. That may be the case short term, but in the long run we will have a leg up on everyone else as this becomes standard. And believe it or not, lots of companies actually want to be officed in sustainable development. There is one architect quoted in the article who has been promoting sustainable design who believes that this would be an immediate advantage for Dallas.

And when we get some type of carbon tax - and that's more likely a when not if - Dallas will be poised to take advantage of the system with new energy efficient building already in place.

It pains me greatly to say this - Good leadership on this issue, Mr. Mayor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Emerging political voice in the East

I have written about the silver lining surrounding the defeat of the Trinity toll road referendum a little. I'd like to explore that a little further. First, take a look at this precinct map. What do you see? - a sea of blue in East Dallas. East Dallas was the soil of this grass roots campaign (at the risk of extending a metaphor too far). This populist voice that is emerging in the city appears to have it's heart in East Dallas.

If the voters of East Dallas are as united on other issues as they have been on the Trinity toll road, and I think that could happen, then there is a new political force in this city. And it's already a voice that has drawn 47% of the voters. The blogoshpere has already labeled this area of town as the People's Republic of East Dallas, or alternately the Eastern Bloc, for the area's more liberal leanings. I think a more endearing term would be Little Austin. Some residents have suggested seceding from Dallas (only half-joking).

We hear a lot about North Dallas as the conservative business minded vote. We know that South Dallas is a political force to be reckoned with, and Vote No did a much better job of turnout in South Dallas. I'll bet in the next election - whatever it is - you'll hear a lot more about which way East Dallas will swing.

Where does that leave my home, Lake Highlands, on the borders of North Dallas and East Dallas? We're somewhat of a mixture. A lot of the area seems to lean toward the North Dallas mindset, and that will probably predominate for the foreseeable future. We also have lots of folks that are there for the proximity to White Rock Lake and value the public spaces we do have in this city and are perhaps a little more ecologically aware. But it appears that most of Lake Highlands followed the lead of North Dallas rather than the influence of our neighbors to the South.

Let's fast forward to the next mayoral election. Let's say Angela Hunt enters the race. She is clearly the most visible local politician next to our current mayor. Her star will continue to rise at every toll road delay or cost overrun or problem with the Army Corps of Engineers or North Texas Tollway Authority. She's going to look smarter and smarter. People from other parts of town will start to warm up to her. And East Dallas could usher her into the mayor's office.

Matt Pulle at the Observer says that East Dallas will always be the lovable losers in this town (last paragraph). I think he underestimates the future potential of a progressive voice in Dallas. He's part of the alternative media, though, and so it's in his interests to be anti-establishment. If his side won, he'd be pro-establishment and that would just be too weird! It's just as weird that I'm being optimistic about Dallas. But I've decided to make my home here so optimism is the way to go for me.

By the way, my favorite term to come out of the post vote chatter: Pop-up Morning News. One visit to their web site will tell you why.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ideology trumping kid safety at CPSC?

I meant to post this last week, but you know how it goes.

The New York Times reported that Nancy Nord, the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked Congress not to increase their authority and funding to protect the public. Here's the Times editorial.

Congress is taking this action in the midst of week after week of toy recalls, most of which have lead paint from China. If you are a parent you know that probably 95% of toys are made in China. And there is no way to know if the toys you are buying are safe.

The CPSC has one toy inspector. One. Almost all of our toys come from overseas and there is one full time inspector.

So now the head of the agency is about to get resources to better protect Americans and she writes a note that she'd rather not. She has a number of objections, some of which may even be defensible, but instead of working with the lawmakers to craft a workable solution, Ms. Nord is joining with industry lobbyists to oppose the legislation.

OK - the commission's WHOLE JOB is to protect the public. They are understaffed and unable to carry out their function in a land full of imports and new consumer products. And now Nancy Nord is effectively lobbying against the interests of her own agency and the public she is supposed to serve.

This is what happens when you put "starve the beast" ideologues in positions of power. You get the guy against international law as Ambassador to the UN, you get a toothless EPA, and you get the head of the CPSC that doesn't want the resources to be able to better protect the public. Heckuva job, Nancy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Notes from loser-town

My thoughts last night were this: Dallas hasn’t changed; we’re still rooting for Goliath (RIP Molly Ivins). I think that’s true in some respects, but I really do believe that the city is changing for the better. Looking at the precinct results, I’d say the cool people live in East Dallas. Props to them and to Angela Hunt and all the Prop 1 supporters who ran this campaign and elevated this issue.

A few people were quoted in the DMN as saying that the petitioners wasted $2M of taxpayer money to have this election. That’s not very gracious of them – just be happy you won. 91,000 people signed the petitions to get this on the ballot and give the city a chance to decide if we really want this. I was hopeful but now we know – the city wants a highway in its floodway. If you want to talk about wasting taxpayer money, let’s talk about the $1.3B (and rising) road you want to build.

Schutze is munching sour grapes this morning. I think he’s right: This project is too dumb to build. But they’ll try like mad to do it.

If this road does get built, they might as well scrap the park. You won’t be able to get to it and once you’re there you’ll be situated next to a truck route. And one day – it may be decades from now – but one day we’ll be ripping that sucker out of there and wondering “what were we thinking?”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tear in my beer

Doesn't. Look. Good.

In my prediction yesterday, I forgot to account for a very important election truism. Old people vote. I dropped by the polls with my wife this afternoon. Lots of olds. I hate to sound ageist - this is probably in no way fair or politically correct. But if all those 20 and 30 somethings who signed those petitions had bothered to actually vote we'd have a different story tonight.

Not sure if that's the only factor I left out. Maybe more people are swayed by threats and lies than I thought. Apparently we're not quite ready to shift our thinking from more roads and sprawl to more density, mass transit, and protecting green space.

At any rate the Corps of Engineers still has not signed off on this road. Looks like we probably failed to kill it today at the polls. But maybe we can keep the pressure on the Corps to do the right thing and stand by their own rules: No new dirt inside the levees and no excavation allowed. That would make it awfully difficult to build an earth bench for our new highway to sit on.

Failing that, welcome to Big D's version of The Big Dig. $1.3 billion and counting for 9 miles of road in our floodway.

Election Day

Why is this vote such a big deal? Why over 20 editorials from the Dallas Morning News on this one issue? Why is everyone picking sides? (And despite all this why is there still an expected 10% turnout?)

Here's my take. This vote will tell us something about the future of this city. Will we continue to pave our way to becoming another sprawled out smog congested Texas version of LA? Or will we maybe start to lean a little more towards some place like Portland, OR? Make no mistake, we'll still have congestion and smog and gridlock and sprawl tomorrow. But what will we be saying is important to Dallas and Dallasites? Will we continue to disregard our natural resources, bird habitats and wetlands, or will we embrace a more pedestrian friendly city with more bike paths, green space, and smarter mass transit to draw the "creative class" to the city core?

Even if Vote No wins, I think the success of the grass roots campaign of TrinityVote tells us something exciting about the future of Dallas. Just go read the comments on this Frontburner post and you will feel good about this city's future. Hopefully our future leaders won't be saddled with tearing a highway out of our levees in 25 years. Vote For Prop 1.

And while you're waiting for the election returns to come in, read these two (long) columns from Sam Merton.
Vote No Starts Making Sense
Park and Tollroad Can't Coexist

Monday, November 5, 2007

Handicapping Prop. 1

(1) The signs in Lake Highlands are not promising for the Vote Yes side. They lean heavily in favor of Vote No. Not sure about other parts of the city. Jeff Siegel at the Advocate blog has reported that the Park Cities are also heavily in the Vote No camp – which is hilarious because they will not vote on the issue. Yard sign advantage: Vote No (at least in my 'hood).

(2) Vote Yes should be more motivated to come to the polls tomorrow, and the expected low turnout should help our side. It’s easier to get motivated to preserve our green space than it is to pave it, at least by my rationale (but as the Mad Priest sayeth, of course I could be wrong). The Vote Yes side does have more popular support as witnessed by their PAC donations - lots of small donors versus fewer big donors for Vote No. I think the PAC contributions are a good sign of motivation. Also, between 50,000 and 90,000 voters signed those petitions. If most of those people come to the polls it will be an easy victory. Advantage: TrinityVote Yes.

(3) Vote Yes has the easier to understand argument: “Do you want a tollroad in your park/floodway?” The Vote No argument usually is some version of “it’s complicated, but trust us.” Advantage: Vote Yes.

(4) The Vote No side has a huge advantage in that one of their biggest supporters is Robert Decherd, publisher of the Dallas Morning News, the paper of record in Dallas. And the paper is pulling out all the stops with their drumbeat of editorials and big splashy front page stories about why we need a road in the floodway. But the daily newspaper is not the force it once was and the alternative press and the blogosphere have been 9 to 1 against the road. Not sure how big a factor that plays here, but it’s an interesting dynamic. Advantage: Vote No.

That’s two points for Vote Yes and two points for Vote No. Matt Pulle at the Dallas Observer has predicted a small margin of victory for the road building coalition. Jeff Siegel at the Advocate predicts a healthy margin of victory for TrinityVote Yes. I’m calling for a Vote Yes victory based primarily on point 2 above. I am prepared to eat crow if incorrect, but I'm not plucking feathers just yet.

And in other news, my wife is excited about the vote tomorrow, because she believes I will be able to talk about something else after the election returns.

UPDATE: Yeah, I did previously say that I wasn't going to make a prediction, but on the eve of the election I can't help it. Makes it more interesting.

Here's some national media coverage from the NYT and the WSJ.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Props to the DMN

...for publishing this story about Seattle's movement to scrap an inner city highway. And prominently on the front page at that. It's praise all around today on FV.

...a growing number of voices in Seattle have switched their views and now want to tear the highway down altogether.

"The replacement of the viaduct is a fantastic opportunity to begin the creation of a 21st-century transportation system," said Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck. "The car can no longer rule all our decisions. There's got to be a better way."

Cheney in Big D

I'm glad there were enough people in Dallas who cared to go and protest the veep today. Even though this is friendly territory for him, there are folks who do not care for tyranny and American imperialism. Actions like these are part of democracy. Good on them.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thank you KERA

As I got in my car yesterday afternoon I was thinking that it would be great if KERA did some stories on the Trinity River toll road. Then I turned the radio on and heard this story from Bill Zeeble, which is apparently part of a series being done this week on the subject. Zeeble's story is about the impact of the toll road on Industrial Blvd.

Today's installment from Shelley Kofler is important. I hope they play it often and lots of people hear it. This exposes a frequent Leppert fib that the Corps of Engineers has signed off on the toll road. They have not. From the story:

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, leading the toll road effort, has said the agency in charge of protecting the waterway, the US Army Corp of Engineers, has signed off on the plan.

Leppert: "The Corps has signed off on the safety issues. They signed off on the environmental issues. They feel very comfortable with it."

But the Corps' Trinity Corridor Project Manager Gene Rice says the road is yet to be approved. There's no final design.

Rice: " We've made no determination at this time on whether the project will be acceptable or not. We are still working with the transportation interests to make sure it could go in safely if it goes in. But no determination has been made or will be made for several years."

Mayor Leppert later told us he didn't mean a final sign off , but a sign off of the direction the city's going in.

Leppert often claims to be "comfortable" with something when he wants to convey a "yes" without actually saying it. It's a verbal cue that he's being evasive or misleading.

Here's Leppert getting caught in another of what we'll generously call one of his "half-truths" from a story earlier in the week:

Can Project Pegasus (the plan for fixing the I30-I35 mixmaster) and the mixmaster be improved without the Trinity tollroad? Mayor Leppert doesn't think so.

Leppert: You haven't heard the alternative plan because there isn't one.

Texas' top road official, Texas Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson agrees there would be delays, but he says he cannot imagine a scenario where Project Pegasus would be scrapped.

Williamson: If the tollroad as invisioned now is radically changed Project Pegasus will have to be redesigned. I'm not taking a position it's just a logical conclusion. Project Pegasus is so important to the clean air plan and congestion relief for North Texas I can't imagine a circumstance where it wouldn't be redesigned and moved forward. It's just that important.

Keep up the good work KERA. I hope lots of undecided voters hear this. Looking forward to the next insallment. Here's the site with all the stories from this week.

A Hunting Morning

Put the saddle on the mare,
For the wet winds blow;
There's winter in the air,
And autumn all below.
For the red leaves are flying
And the red bracken dying,
And the red fox lying
Where the oziers grow.

Put the bridle on the mare,
For my blood runs chill;
And my heart, it is there,
On the heather-tufted hill,
With the gray skies o'er us,
And the long-drawn chorus
Of a running pack before us
From the find to the kill.

Then lead round the mare,
For it's time that we began,
And away with thought and care,
Save to live and be a man,
While the keen air is blowing,
And the huntsman holloing,
And the black mare going
As the black mare can.

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

To the scary lady

I hope you enjoyed making an almost 3-year old cry. I hope you received some enjoyment from making him scared to go up to any other house until we reassured him that there were no scary people there.

If he has nightmares I may have to seek revenge. Perhaps you will wake up next to a dinosaur head. Perhaps I will truthify your Vote No sign. Watch your back lady.

Halloween was otherwise a hoot.


Happy Halloween folks! Tonight we take the dinosaurs out to beg for candy.

Tomorrow I can start dreading Christmas. (Long story involving uncooperative family who want to overload my kids with junk...)

But in the spirit of today, here is Dallas' Lady of the Lake ghost story. I love this stuff.
Back in the early 1930s, a doctor was driving home from a late night at Lakewood Country Club when he happened upon a girl in a wet gown beckoning for a ride.
She pleaded for him to take her home to a Gaston Avenue address. When the doctor arrived at the dimly lit destination, he turned to the girl, but she was gone. Water dripped from the empty seat.
The homeowner told the confused doctor: “The girl is my daughter, who drowned in White Rock years ago.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Toll road tid bits

Did you know that the Trinity River has four forks? I always assumed it had three. Wonder why they don't call it the Amazing Quadrupal River?

Morning News watch
More good stuff in the Dallas Morning News, believe it or not. I'm more or less ignoring the goofy news items. On the other hand there is a good piece reminding us that there are ecological concerns with the wetlands that will be displaced by a toll road. I'm surprised the News ran this article amidst their misinformation campaign. Good for them.

The Viewpoints page continues to host some good guest columns. On Friday we had this piece from DMN alum Victoria Loe Hicks. Lots of good stuff here including some insight into how Dallas' wealthy elite approach public works projects like parks and toll roads. Here is a bit that I especially like:

The road-beside-the-river gang insists that building along Industrial would be far more costly than in the riverbed. That's because they're counting on us to give up a big swath of parkland for free. But the cost of building beside the river has skyrocketed and will continue to – precisely because building a highway in an area designed to carry floodwaters is, to put it mildly, very, very tricky.

And on Monday morning we have the question we should all be asking, which is not "where should we put this highway?" but rather, "should we build another highway through the middle of our city?" Great column by Eric Van Steenburg of Friends of the Katy Trail. Van Steenburg rightly points out that we are addicted to highways (and cheap fossil fuels I would add) and he has several suggestions for curbing the addiction. I find it interesting that both sides of the debate reference Portland, OR, as an example of a place that decided to invest in public transit rather than highways. It seems to me we would want to emulate them, but the pro-tollroad crowd is afraid of Birkenstock wearing, bicycle riding, and (gasp) walking(!) tree huggers that the comparison somehow works for their side too.

Neighborhood sign watch
I think the Tom "your taxes will go up" Leppert scare tactics are working on some folks. I drove through the White Rock Valley neighborhood on Sunday and saw lots of Vote No signs. It was rather disheartening. The only thing I can figure is that people really believe the city will lose $1 billion if we vote Yes on (or "FOR") Prop. 1. Even the DMN says this really isn't true (though they don't put it on the front page). Let's hope enough of the people at the polls are informed enough to know this.

Pegasus News has all the donors to the two PACs. No surpise here. The TrinityVote Yes side has lots of small donors (and hopefully voters) and the Vote No Pave the Trinity side has fewer but much wealthier benefactors.

Reverse psychology tactic? or something?
And in weird "news," Wick Allison of plastic surgery's favorite magazine has thrown in the towel and conceded defeat that the Vote Yes side will win. Because his mother said so.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Alright already - I give!

They wore me down. It is time to renew our KERA membership, which I have been reminded of every morning for the past week and a half. OK I did it. Give me back my radio station! (And send me that clever This American Life coffee mug.)

Friend who works for the station said that only 10% of listeners pledge. That is astonishing to me. I might more readily believe 40%-50% but only 10%! That's bad people. Step up and give in and get the drive done! (I think that's a good slogan for the drive - "step up and give in!") Sam Baker wills you to do it.

World Series notebook

Some advice for the Colorado Rockies organization
Maybe you would play better ball if you wore regular baseball uniforms. What are those things? Tank tops? Just a thought. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Uneventful early voting

I strolled over the Records Building downtown to cast my ballot early today. It was my first time to vote early. Pretty convenient actually, as I didn't have to be in my voting precinct or do it on a particular day.

Traffic was light but people were coming and going with regularity, probably due to the centrality and convenience of being downtown.

The fellow who greeted me was playing a killer game of computer solitaire, but he was happy to interrupt it to take care of me.

This was also my first encounter with the touch screen ballot, which was weird. In my precinct you color in your bubbles and then feed it into an optical scanner which counts your vote and then locks away the paper trail. Today I received no hard copy confirmation. I hit the vote button and my vote just went into the ether. Seems like a bad idea, but there it is. It still felt good to vote "For" (not "yes" or "no" despite all the signage) Prop 1.

The only downside to voting early: now I have to wait until November 6 for the results. I'll forget which way I voted on judge retirement and the inspector of skins and animals by then.

Mmmm... enchilada plate

I am so hungry after reading this.


Fortunately I had lunch at Tejano's in Oak Cliff yesterday so I have recent strength from sour cream chicken enchiladas. But this is going to make it really hard to eat the ham sandwich I brought to work today.

(By the way, go eat at Tejano's and thank them for supporting the TrinityVote campaign. They had multiple Vote Yes signs outside.)

Hat tip to Jeff Siegel at LH Advocate blog.

Stairway to Bluegrass

In news that conjurs the sounds of Hayseed Dixie (the hillbillie AC/DC tribute band), Alison Krauss and Robert Plant have an album out. And it's the same album. And they both sing on it. Together. Weird huh? I can't wait to hear the dulcet tones of Krauss's fiddle as Plant sings about squeezing his lemon.

Seriously, this sounds like a pretty cool album for one big reason. T Bone Burnett, producer of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack was in charge and it sounds like he really challenged the two musicians and wove a tapestry. I can't wait to hear the disc (said the thirty something who hasn't quite got used to the idea of downloading albums to the iPod yet).

I've heard Celine Dion and Joey Ramone will be opening the North American tour. Should be quite a show.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Let the voting begin

Early voting starts today. Here are the Dallas County locations. Vote early if you can!

The Morning News printed several guest columns in Sunday’s Points section related to the Trinity River toll road referendum. Writing in favor of the road were Mayor Tom Leppert, Metro columnist Steve Blow, and Wick Allison (publisher of D Magazine). Writing against the road on the Vote Yes side were city councilwoman Angela Hunt, dallasblog reporter Sam Merton, and Dallas Observer columnist (and polemicist extraordinaire) Jim Schutze.

This is a very balanced section from the DMN, as has generally been the case on the opinion page. It’s the slanted news stories that have aggravated me. But I’m pleased to see the balance of this section.

Schutze addresses a concern I’ve wondered about a little – namely is it advisable to put a park in this floodway? (Wick Allison writes about this too but somehow comes out in favor of both a road and a park in the floodway – I don’t get his logic but it’s the same old saw about everything in this project is connected and if you remove a piece the whole thing unravels.) Here is a snippet from Schutze’s column:

I hear people ask: If putting the highway in the floodway is a dumb idea, why is it smart to build a big, expensive park there with all sorts of high-maintenance features like kayak courses? Who will pay to clean up this new park when it floods with effluent from the upstream sewage treatment plants?
Common sense says that's a good question, too, but one to which we can find answers. Very little of the park has been designed yet to the level of actual engineering. The best park may not be what's on the drawing boards today. It may need to be gentler, more modest, better married to the land and less costly to maintain.
But once we put a highway in it, we will have to build more and more infrastructure – more "work-arounds" – to accommodate the road. The chance to create that better park will be gone for at least a century, maybe forever.

But that is really a question for another day. Today's common sense question is do we want a highway in between our flood control levees.

I don’t hear a lot of predictions of the outcome. I’m not going to venture there either. But I do hope that common sense prevails. Happy rainy Monday. Welcome fall weather! Exercise your right to make your voice heard.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Trinity Friday Wrap Up

Lots of ink and pixels have been spilled this week on the Trinity toll road referendum and the cast of characters involved in shaping the debate.

The must reads are the two background stories. Jim Schutze writes about the last ten years that he has been reporting on this story and how Angela Hunt made this crusade her own in his feature piece for the Observer. And Eric Celeste of D Magazine has a great cover story mostly involving Laura Miller, Angela Hunt, and Jim Schutze in the years leading up to this moment. The headlines describe this as a Gunfight and a War, respectively. Isn't that nice?

Lots going on in the blogosphere, too. Too much to summarize. Suffice it to say that dallasblog has published a couple of poorly thought out guest columns about why the city will dry up and blow away (I'm stealing this phrase from Jeff Siegel at the Advocate blog - thanks Jeff!) if we don't get a toll road in our flood control system. Sam Merton has written another good column for dallasblog about the NTTA's true dollar commitment to this project (note to Tom Leppert - it's not $1 billion). He also cracks a nut that should be obvious - this road is very expensive because it is being built in a floodway ($1.3B and climbing for nine miles of road). Leppert et al would have you believe it is cheaper because the land is free.

And Jim Schutze and Steve Blow had a nasty tiff in blog land. It is comprised of several posts, but this is the memorable one if only for the headline.

Finally, the Dallas Morning News published a hatchet job on Schutze attempting to paint him as a wacky conspiracy theorist. And the managing editor described him as looney and a polemicist. Sounds like you're getting to them Jim.

Busy week in media land. I'm ready to head to the polls for the real action.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Former Sen. Phil Gramm pushing TX lottery sale

Interesting story in the Sunday Business section of the NYT: Some states consider leasing their lotteries. I knew that Texas was contemplating a sale of its lottery, but I didn't know that our former Senator stands to make a bundle if it happens. Sen. Phil Gramm is now vice chairman at UBS. The investment banks are pushing these sales and leases as they stand to make millions in fees off of deals in the tens of billions of dollars. I'm sure Gramm would argue this is a win-win for Texas and UBS.

The money is very tempting to cash strapped states but I question the societal impact of privatizing these operations, which are in practice a voluntary regressive tax on the most vulnerable in our society. I actually agree with the social conservatives that tried to stop a state lottery when it was first proposed. They are bad for society. Add in agressive marketing by a private firm and they become even worse.

Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman is quoted in the article as saying the governor likes the idea of getting the state out of the gambling business. I guess that's OK, but the gambling business will only grow in a state that undertakes this, otherwise the investment bankers wouldn't be trotting out such huge figures (TX's lottery valued at $10-$38B). That's bad for Texans, no matter how much money they throw at us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Irony, thy name is Madame Secretary

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, quoted on Sunday in The New York Times, speaking about Russia:

“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development.”

Ain't technology great?

Thankfully we don't have to rely on The Dallas Morning News for our, well, er, news about the Trinity River Corridor. Through the wonderful technology of the paper's own blog, readers are taking the newspaper to task for failing to report on the trucks that will be allowed on the tollroad according to various reports. Jim Schutze reported last week at Unfair Park that The Allen Group, which is developing the inland port, has donated $50,ooo to the Vote No effort.

Apparently the DMN was partially shamed into sort of reporting it. In an unrelated story about Mayor Leppert's retire my campaign debt fundraiser on page 2B, reporter Dave Levinthal writes that one of the "top named sponsors" of the bash is "The Allen Group, developers of Dallas' southern sector inland port and a top donor to pro-Trinity River Corridor toll road efforts" (emphasis mine).

I do have to give props to the editors of the Viewpoints page for printing a guest column from Sharon Boyd of Vote Yes which points out that the 50,000-90,000 voters who signed the petition are the mayor's constituents, and that these numbers should not be ignored. That is more people than voted for Leppert or the original 1998 Trinity River Corridor project.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Trinity quick hits

The best coverage of the debates I have seen by far is from Sam Merton over at Dallas Blog. Here he confirms that ex-councilman Bill Blaydes has agreed that trucks will be allowed on the highway.

I wonder if The Dallas Morning News plans to ignore the fact that trucks will be rolling down the Belo Tollway up through the election, which is the opposite of what we’ve been told since this project morphed into a tollroad and is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. I would think the EPA might have something to say about a truck route running through the middle of a non-attainment area; or through a nature preserve. Nothing like a major news daily sticking its head in the ground.

Signs signs everywhere signs
On my early morning run this morning I noticed that the signs have been sprouting up. There were four “Vote No Pave the Trinity” signs along McCree, a fairly well-traveled road in Lake Highlands. It appears that the Vote No folks hit McCree specifically because I saw no other “Vote No” signs in the neighborhood. Only counted two “Vote Yes” signs on my route (including mine), so by that measure it doesn’t look good. But there is a HUGE “Vote Yes” sign on Audelia just north of NW Highway. The town hall attendees and the blogosphere appear to be 99% on the Vote Yes side. The Advocate online poll had 77% on the Vote Yes side.

The Vote No people are smart. Their slogan is “Save the Trinity.” Remember that they want to build a big highway inside the levees. So they’re trying to save their vision of the Trinity Corridor Project, not the river itself. It’s a sneaky slogan and it might get some folks to unwittingly vote their way. But the people that are informed and motivated to go to the polls will know which way to mark their ballot. All the Vote Yes folks are smart enough to ignore the propaganda streaming from the DMN so they won’t be fooled by a slogan.

Floodin’ down in Texas
I don’t hear too much about the fact that this road project will take up precious cubic feet from our flood control system. The next time there is a big flood in Dallas, if there is a big road displacing water inside the levees, people will finally realize why this was such a bad idea. From the beginning this has been my major point of contention with this project. You don’t stick something that big in an area that is designed to channel flood water out of your city. So I was glad to see this on the talking point sheet provided to me by the Trinity Vote folks who left us our yard sign.

Ground control to Mayor Tom
The front page of the Morning News this morning had a huge headline about all the money that will be lost by the city if the referendum passes. They appropriately reported that all the flood control and much of the park is funded regardless of the outcome. There was no new information as far as I could tell with the exception of one thing. There is a contention that was printed as fact that Dallas’ contribution to the highway is “capped” based on the original 1998 bond referendum. I’m suspicious of this claim – perhaps someone with a more investigative bent than myself will challenge it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NAFTA trucks - welcome to Dallas

Here's another reason big business and their bought and paid for politicians are all lining up to pave the Trinity: the route is needed to carry truck traffic from the "inland port" thingy they are building in S. Dallas. That's right, big old smelly dirty loud tire-tread-shooting tailgating polluting 18 wheelers will be rumbling through Dallas' signature park. So much for the argument that this reliever route will help our pollution problem.

It seems to me that most cities would want that kind of traffic to go around the city and not right up through the middle of it. So now I'm against any alignment of this road that goes through Dallas at all, on Industrial Boulevard or elsewhere. We need polluting trucks rumbling through the middle of Dallas like we need a collective hole in the head.

It seems to me I read somewhere that my former City Councilman Bill Blaydes had recently admitted that truck traffic from the inland port was going to come through on this road (can't find it though). And now we have the Trinity pavers VoteNo being financed by a trucking company.

This gets more interesting every day.

(Incidentally, do you think the Fake Steve Jobs might have a problem with Dallas calling their inland port the IIPOD?)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Tom Leppert threatens Dallas citizens with higher taxes

After watching this WFAA story on Sunday’s Trinity debate, it became clear to me that there is no way this referendum will fail. The pro-tollroad (Vote No) people are going to have a hard time trying to mobilize people to go to the polls to vote for a road through the park. “Yes, I’m here to vote ‘No’ so that Tom Leppert can put a high speed tollway through the nice park.” There is no way they can convince enough people to go to the polls for that, so the mayor is pulling out the scare tactics. The nebulous threat that everything will surely fall apart if the referendum passes and Dallas will be irreparably wounded has failed. Nobody believes that, with the possible exception of people from Southlake and they don't get to vote on the land grab.

So now Mayor Tom is trotting out the threat of a tax hike (watch the WFAA clip), as if he’s going to ask the city of Dallas to pay for this road to carry commuters through our city – not to downtown but from the southeast to the northwest of Dallas. Out of the other side of his mouth, Leppert has pledged to lower tax rates next year (even though citizens seem to have said they would rather invest in than neglect our public infrastructure by voting for a huge bond election last year).

So which is it, Mr. Mayor? Are you going to change your mind on taxes and take it out on us dumb voters who just don’t understand your vision for paving the Trinity? Are you really going to try to make the citizens of Dallas pay for a tollroad through sales or property taxes? Give me a break! A tollroad is supposed to be paid for with – wait for it – tolls, and if anyone is going to kick in extra money to pay for this state road I don’t think it will be the city of Dallas.

But I don’t think anyone believes the mayor’s scare tactics. People seem to understand that the choice really is pretty simple: Do you want a highway in your nice new park and in your flood control system or don’t you?

By the way, the DMN isn’t making me mad anymore. They are so laughably in the pockets of the tollroad people it’s embarrassing. Read a couple of these “news” stories from Bruce Tomaso and tell me if you agree. I mean really, the referendum "is like asking a 14-year old if he'd rather have broccoli or a Dr. Pepper." Did Bruce really write that? The most telling thing in this analogy - the voters are the 14 year old.

Friday, October 5, 2007

This is going to be some school

Regular commenter at Jake's place, Harry, recently won a dinner with Presiding Bishop Katharine of The Episcopal Church at a clergy conference he attended with his partner. Harry is an amazing writer and I'm sure a fascinating dinner guest, and he recounts the experience here. Please go read it all - especially to understand the reference to toes. As a bit of backgound, TEC has been struggling with balancing the demands of the Anglican Communion Primates (the head pointy-hat bishops of the national churches) and the need to fully include GLBT Christians in the life of the church. Many see it as a choice between justice and unity. This recent compromise from the U.S. House of Bishops has not pleased many on either side of the issue - in true compromise form. This is the portion of Harry's post that I want to highlight:
Toward the end of my conversation with her I said, “Katharine, I’m a mature Christian. I’ve been about this for awhile, and I don’t need anything from the House of Bishops, the Primates, or my Rector—who does, by the way, turn out to be the Love of My Life. I’d like, at this point, for you to give me a charge, during this time of ‘fasting,’ to take away from this table. I want something to call my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to do with me that has absolutely nothing to do with the Windsor Report.”

She looked at me quizzically for moment and then said, “Build a school in Central Tanganyika.”

She really heard my question and she really answered it.

I need help from all of you. Maybe moral support. Maybe a lot of money. Maybe fund raising. Maybe doing paper work. I don't know anything about building a school. I want gay and lesbian people and their friends to work on this, but I don't want it to be a gay and lesbian project. I want us to have an experience of being mission Christians without needing anything back from it at all. Including not needing the project to advance our cause. Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. I turn that over to my Lord and Savior. I have a school to build. It seems almost crazy to be thinking I can do this-- but it isn't any crazier, really, when you think about it, than having toes.

FYI - Central Tanganyika is a diocese in Tanzania, where the Primates met in February to make their recent demands of TEC.

Since Harry is requesting help to build a school and I am a lurking member of Jake's congregation, I'm going to post updates to this endeavor. If any of you are inspired by this charge as I am please pitch in! Shalom!

Probably not shopping at Neiman's

Seen on the streets of downtown Dallas this morning: A man wearing matching burnt orange pressed shorts and button down shirt. It must be Texas-OU weekend.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

He Schutze he scores

Jim Schutze has an excellent post today about the Trinity River project. Apparently the people aren't buying what the politicos are selling out in the town hall meetings. And there are some e-mails vowing vengeance on the anti-toll road activists (Ron Kirk's e-mail grammar is atrocious). I could quote the whole post - why not just go there and read it for yourself. But this description of the Dallas Morning News (regarding yesterday's propaganda piece by Bruce Tomaso) is so spot on I have to quote it here:

The Trinity River debate is proving my long-held conviction. The Dallas Morning News can take any kind of propaganda dry-out pledge it wants, join any 12-step program it can find for recovering information abusers. Doesn’t matter. Next time it strolls by the Oligarchy Saloon, catches a whiff of that spilled Insider Brew, hears a few strains from the Old Boy jukebox, it’s gonna fall off the wagon again and start crankin’ out the bullshit again.
Poor old thang. It just can’t do no better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The experiment: part three

An introspective update to our experiment in becoming a one-car family...

The deed is done. Or at least the advertisement is posted. I had trouble sleeping last night. It is true that our cars are a reflection of ourselves and, though I feel silly admitting this, it will be difficult to give this one up.

I was composing a playful blog post in my head over the weekend about the financial implications of selling a durable asset to my personal balance sheet and the mistake of buying a new car to drive for only 4 years. But of course we should not make our decisions based on sunk costs (the past depreciation) but on future cash flows. By that measure I’m doing the right thing today. I did the wrong thing 4 years ago - if I had a crystal ball back then I would not have purchased a new vehicle. I didn’t know when I was starting my job in New Jersey that I would get hooked on mass transit in Dallas in 2006.

But I’m not going any further into all that. I am struck by how emotional the decision is when logic tells me how smart it is. It’s a head versus heart decision. The head is winning but the heart hurts a little. For a thing. How can I be emotionally invested in an object? I didn’t really believe I was until I posted that ad. Perhaps this experience makes it that much clearer that it is not a bad thing to unshackle myself from it. I don’t think it’s bad to like your wheels. But it’s probably a good thing to be reminded that the car is not a part of who I am. And if that means that I am humbling myself in some way, then that can be a very good and healthy thing.

But we do this all the time don’t we? Our homes say something about us. As do all our shiny gadgets – our cell phones, iPods, flat screens, granite countertops, clothing, wrist watches, other assorted bling, etc. In some ways we are our stuff. Our stuff says something about us and what we value. And we choose our stuff based on our lifestyles. I need to try to live in a way that I am not my stuff. I need to live in a way that I am the people whose lives I touch; to be a living prayer. It is something to strive for.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Thomas breaks a promise -or- "Safety is our first concern"

RC2 Corp recalled more Thomas and Friends toys last week for lead paint. Among them was the wooden “Toad” train. The same Toad train that RC2 mailed to our house as an apology/thank you gift for the original lead paint recall. So it’s not enough that they’re selling toys with lead paint in the stores. Now they’re sending them directly to my door. Thanks, RC2.

Is it really too much to ask that they at least make sure the "we're sorry for the whole lead paint thing" gift be free of lead paint?

HIT Entertainment should pull the license for Thomas and Friends from RC2 immediately. RC2 appears to be all thumbs and incapable of managing this situation.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The experiment: part two

Time for an update on the experiment as the week winds down. We successfully drove only one car for the rest of the week. The only other challenge that presented itself was that I needed to meet the A/C repairman on Wednesday afternoon. So Amy just came and picked me up at White Rock station and dropped me at the house for the afternoon. No biggie.

Let’s just say this: I’ll probably have the Passat listed on and craigslist by sometime next week. I think we're ready to become a one-car family. Know anyone who needs a late model low mileage sedan?

This is going to be interesting.

Pro toll-road mailer

I got my first piece of propaganda from the pro-toll road campaign in the mail yesterday. It is a lovely glossy fold out thing that describes all the awful things that will happen if the referendum is passed in November. On the front cover is their biggest claim (and shot at their nemesis Angela Hunt): "Don't let Angela Hunt send more than $1 billion down the river..."

Not sure why this makes me mad. We've been expecting this. But misinformation chaps my hide. The state and federal dollars for this road will not be relinquished if this road is moved outside of the levees. It will have to be redesigned and some things will have to change, but none other than "Vote No" Honorary Co-Chair U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has clarified for us that the money for the levees and flood control is not in jeopardy should the location of this road change. The money for the park and lakes was secured in the 1998 bond election.

The flier implies (without explicitly saying so) that the entire project: the flood control, the lakes, the park, the hike and bike trails, the nature preserve, etc. is all at risk if this referendum passes. This is not true. The bonds have been approved and the work continues on all those other things if the toll road is removed.

Among the other claims in the flier:
  • Claim: This vote was forced by a "small but vocal" group. In a city of over 1 million people, 50,000-80,000 (the number of certified signatures and the total number of signatures on the petition) may seem small, but it is more than the number of people who voted for our fearless mayor who wants to shove the road down our throats as Bill DeOre so vividly illustrated. If all of those folks come to the polls in November, Mayor Tom's vision of a paved river bottom will remain a fantasy.
  • Claim: Voting Yes means new taxes. This is the big bogeyman. The claim states: "More than 90% of the cost of the Trinity Parkway is being paid through state funding. If we lose this funding then Dallas taxpayers may be left to pay for Angela Hunt's new road design." First of all, it is not Angela Hunt's responsibility to design or align this tollway. Hunt is trying to protect the park that was voted for back in 1998. Apparently several people thought that was a vote for a roads project. So we have a disagreement. Secondly, notice the use of the words "if" and "may." This is not a very strong statement. It is a scare tactic reinforcing the claim on the front that we could lose $1 billion in funding. If the state wants a road, the state's going to help pay for a road.
  • Claim: Voting Yes means delayed flood protection because of a delay in the "project" if the road must be redesigned. Let's all recall that a road in the flood plain displaces water and makes flooding worse. I don't think these folks are too concerned about flood protection. The Corps of Engineers has said that they will have the right to remove portions of this road in the future if necessary to perform levee repair. This claim is part of the argument that all the pieces of this project are so intertwined and inextricably linked that to remove the road threatens the entire project. Again, the funding for flood control is secure. Let's build the best flood control we can and not seek waivers from the Corps of Engineers to use pre-Katrina standards just so we can have a highway in our flood plain.
  • Claim: Voting Yes means more traffic. I suspect that there will be more traffic regardless of where this road is located or if it is built at all. More roads encourage more people to drive. This "reliever route" further encourages people to live in the 'burbs and drive their SUVs from Southlake to their office downtown. What if we used our scarce resources to speed up the DART light rail build out? That would be forward thinking.
There is another picture included of the lovely four-lane road (it will actually be six lanes) with about 6 cars on it with pretty vegetation surrounding it (weakening the levees) meandering next to our park next door. Gee, what could that park look like without that road there?

I ordered a yard sign from TrinityVote yesterday. I will probably make a donation today to help them combat the misinformation in this flier. I'm excited about the potential for the grass roots of this city to deal a David vs. Goliath blow to all the politicians and the big money interests who want to pave our park. I really think it could happen. That's right, Molly Ivins, Dallas might be ready to start rooting for David!

Making a donation to TrinityVote is very easy - they have a PayPal account linked from their website. I had a more difficult time getting their "Volunteer" form to work, which is where you request a yard sign.

Also, good balanced reporting from the Advocate neighborhood magazine today. Check it out.