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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bill DeOre strikes again

I can't believe the Dallas Morning News let this guy get away. Great political cartoonist. Originally posted at dallasblog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Trinity Updates

Mayor Tom and Angela Hunt debated the toll road last night. Ms. Hunt's big applause line, when being pressed to offer an alternate route for the road:

"There are lots of places we can put this road, and only one place we can put the park," she said. "So where is your alternative for the park?"

Also, here is a good post from Jeff Siegel last week over at the Advocate blog. It is from a discussion with State Senator John Corona, who is of course pro toll-road. But he's honest about it. He would prefer a free road outside the park, but knows that it must have some private funding and therefore the land needs to be free to make it "commercially viable." I guess the tax payers will be picking up the tab as the price continues to spiral. It appears to be all about fixing the I30-I35 mixmaster according to this post. I recall Jim Schutze addressing the contention that this road is needed before the mixmaster can be fixed and I believe his opinion was this was a myth.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson also joined the pro-toll road folks last week. Earlier this year she blew a hole in the pro-toll road crowd's assertion that if we don't build the road where it is planned all the financing will dry up. She's not backing off that statement, but has reversed herself on the vote. Now she thinks a vote on the placement of the road is a waste of time and money. She has been assimilated. Too bad.

Check out Matt Pulle's reporting of the debate over at Unfair Park. It appears that the audience was overwhelmingly anti-toll road and was cheering Angela Hunt and Sandy Greyson at every turn. Also read the third comment down by a reader named Jason Eric. Great post. He illustrates very well the divide between the old way of thinking (build more roads) and the new way Dallas needs to be thinking (more mass transit).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The experiment

Can my family comfortably exist with only one car? That is the question of the week. Passat is spending the week in the garage. I am already taking the train to work every day, so it is mostly a question of getting dropped off at the train station rather than parking my vehicle in the parking lot every day, costing me depreciation, a car payment, and insurance. About 2.5 miles from the house to the train station. Should be pretty easy, right?

When we unveiled this plan to our parents, their first reactions were "do you need money?" Now I'd be lying if I didn't say this plan was prompted by financial concerns. But it isn't just that. It's about being a good steward of our resources, doing what's right for our family, and making do with less.

And I might just replace the heavy German 6-cylinder sedan with a fuel sipping 2-wheeler. There is an active campaign underway (by my kids' grandparents) to convince me that a scooter is terribly dangerous. But I can assure one and all that I would wear a helmet and drive almost the entire harrowing 2.5 miles on residential streets. This is only feasible if I feel relatively confident that I could secure such a vehicle at the park and ride against thievery, so the jury's still out.

But this week is the one car, no scooter experiment.

Day 1 was Monday. We ran into this. DART rail was running massive delays due to weekend construction that took a tad too long. After we figured out what was going on, my wonderful wife and kids drove me downtown. Crisis averted and only about 45 minutes late for work. But were the commuting gods trying to tell us something? (They'll have to do better than that; we're stubborn.)

Day 2. Tuesday. French toast (and a smoke alarm to let us know it was ready) this morning - wife is taking the experiment very seriously if she's cooking breakfast. (She's a fantastic cook, but we eat cold cereal in the mornings around here.) Got to the station early and downtown at the normal time. Wife and kids not yet bitter that they have to leave the house at the same time I do. I did have a bit of a wait in the afternoon as my ride was late. No big deal. It wasn't that hot out and I had my iPod and the Week in Review section from the Sunday Times.

So far so good. I really think the 1 car family idea will not be too bad since we have such good public transportation to downtown. It's going to bite us in the ass though when we both need to go somewhere that the trains don't go. Stay tuned for further results of experiment week.

Do not forget your fallen sons and daughters

If you haven't already seen this, check out Frisco, Texas native Alex Horton's blog, Army of Dude. Horton is a soldier back home from his deployment in Iraq and has written some great stuff about the war and how his deployment has changed his view of it 180 degrees. Here is a sample from a recent post:

After losing two friends and over a dozen comrades, I have this to say:

Do not wage war unless it is absolutely, positively the last ditch effort for survival.I was a struggling senior in high school when the invasion took place, and I supported it. I was mesmerized by the way we raced across the desert and took Baghdad in less than a month. War was a sleek, glossy commercial on TV, and we always won at the end. It’s easy to be for a war when you have absolutely no connection with it. Patriotism lead me to believe what we were doing was right and noble. What a difference a deployment can make.

The public can do something about this. It doesn’t have to be a hopeless cause forever. Write your Congressmen, go to a rally, read as much as you can about Iraq to see it for what it is: a place men go to lose their minds and their lives. And most importantly, love your children. Teach them that war is not honorable, it’s no plaything cast with an indifferent hand. It’s the most terrible thing man ever brought to the world. My generation didn’t learn from Vietnam, but the next one can learn from us. The memories and spirit of Chevy and Jesse compel you, America. Do not forget your fallen sons.

When this war is over, it will be a better day
When this war is over, it will be a better day
But it won't bring back all those poor boys in the grave.
-Eric Clapton/J.J. Cale

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Watercolor artists find work in Big D

Dallas’ Only Daily newspaper printed its third front page Trinity toll road story of the week today. This one was accompanied inside the paper by a lovely watercolor rendering of a toll road. Unfortunately the News did not reproduce it on their web site so I can’t paste it here. (My better half thinks we could use a nice watercolor painting of a toll road to pretty up the living room.) It is tree-lined and has lovely landscaping all around it. The NTTA also released a video of computer generated animation showing what the toll road might or might not look like. There is a disclaimer before the video stating that the project may not resemble the video. Mayor Tom “feel(s) very comfortable” that the renderings are accurate.

Naturally the good guys say that these pictures completely misrepresent the project. Angela Hunt, whom the Morning News has been keeping busy this week, responds. From the article:

…District 14 Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, the toll road's leading opponent and architect of the toll road proposition before voters in November, argued that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't allow trees to be planted in the sides of the river levees as depicted in the anti-proposition campaign's toll road renderings.

A verdant median also disappears if the toll road is expanded from an initial four lanes to six, Ms. Hunt argued.

Members of the Dallas city staff acknowledged as much Tuesday during a meeting of the City Council's Trinity River Corridor Committee.

So it seems that the message of the pro toll road people is to show us pretty pictures of roads, and how they don’t really intrude on the park. Meanwhile, they still don’t know how much it’s going to cost or exactly how they’re going to do it. I can’t emphasize that enough. There seems to be no plan of how to protect this road from flooding while not obstructing the flow of the river during flooding.

Over in the blogosphere, I am noticing a trend to favor the "city versus suburb" argument, which I mentioned in my initial manifesto (point 3). Several commenters at the Observer and Advocate blogs have gravitated to the idea that this highway is for suburbanites commuting to their downtown offices. The lovely community of Southlake is often invoked as a place where people will benefit from a new commuter highway. Well, it appears at least one of the residents of Southlake has caught on that this project is good for him. Dan Quinto writes this in the DMN letters section today:

If improving the quality of life of North Texas residents is the point of the Trinity River Project, then consider the 200,000 commuters who would benefit daily from the increased beauty and reduced stress of their daily commute using the Trinity toll road.

I cannot think of any recreational or pedestrian use that would match that benefit alone. Roadways are as much a part of urban life as great public spaces. Treating our roadways with the same care and affection will benefit both our cities and our lives.

Well, there you have it. Dallas should give away their parkland in order to build Dan a nicer road from his house to his office and improve his quality of life. His letter actually illustrates nicely how short-sighted this project is. There is no recreational or pedestrian use that would match the benefit of getting Mr. Quinto back home to Southlake faster and in style. To Mr. Quinto of Southlake, roadways are just as important as great public spaces. Even if I were to agree, I would have to take issue with a roadway running through a great public space.

Fortunately the residents of Southlake will not be voting in the referendum. The park users will.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Battle of the sound bites

The Dallas Morning News is wondering aloud on their front page why we haven't heard more from the two camps in the Trinity River toll road vote. Jeff Siegel posts at Back Talk that it's a different kind of campaign and that maybe the political consultants don't quite know what to do with it, much less what they are going to say. The anti-toll road group probably doesn't have the cash to launch an all-out media assault, at least not this early.

Here is the message we have from each side so far. From this morning's story, here's Angela Hunt, city council person and community organizer extraordinaire (future mayor?): "Do you want a high-speed toll road in what's supposed to be Dallas' signature park?" That's pretty much all you have to say. It is a very simple message.

The pro-toll road group does not have a simple message. They can't seem to boil it down. They say they need to educate voters and that it's much more complicated. All the pieces have to fit together. Blah blah blah. Meanwhile, according to Jim Schutze, they don't even know how they're going to flood-protect the road or how much that will cost.

Oh, and Mr. Schutze is going to be profiled by D magazine and the DMN as part of the "2-pronged strategy" to get the voters to want a road in their park. Good luck guys.

Friday, September 14, 2007


My better half and I have been following the tragic news of the death last week of Dallas musician Carter Albrecht, who played keyboards and guitars for Sorta and keys for Edie Brickell and New Bohemians. (Check out the great pictures of Carter with the New Bohemians at their site.) All of the reports of his talent and discussions on the Ticket (sports talk radio and guilty pleasure) spurred the wife to download a couple of Sorta albums. Wow. Good stuff.

I’m not sure what it says about our culture that our response to tragedy was to go to iTunes and download music, but I’ll bet there’s a sociology paper in there somewhere. I’ll bet downloads of Pavarotti soared last week. But I digress.

I listened to the Sorta album Little Bay on the train this morning. I’ll describe it as bluesy, folksy rock (some of the tracks are I dare say slightly pop tinged) and the vocals are downright longing. I love the use of slide guitar in many of the tracks – sometimes more subtle than others. The keyboards on “to Jenny” are understated loveliness (I want to describe it as “raindroppy” but that makes no sense) in a nice little ballad. And I’m a sucker for nice little ballads. This is good music. And it’s been right here in our back yard. I also recommend the more recent album Strange and Sad But True.

I’m very happy to have been finally introduced to Sorta. Even though I was peripherally aware of them for years I had never listened to their music. Well it was my loss. And I’m sorry that it took the strange circumstances of Albrecht’s death to get us to take a listen.

O God who created in us a love and enjoyment of music that we may experience the divine, care for your servants who bless us and you with their talent, that they may sing your praises and be assured of your presence, to the glory of your name. Amen. May Carter Albrecht, Luciano Pavarotti, and all the faithful departed rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Yea! A conversation...

Just wanted to point out that FV (yes, I'm going to start abbreviating the name of my blog 'cause it sounds cool) reader and superdad Kevin has engaged me in a healthy debate in the comments section of a previous post about the role of government in setting and enforcing product safety standards. Please feel free to join in. One of the things I wanted to do with this blog was not just to "spout off" but to get a little conversation going. Thanks for taking the bait, Kevin ;)

Happy Friday all!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No Senate staffer left behind

Well, I received a reply from Sen. Hutchison regarding my concerns about product safety, which I mentioned in a previous post. No word from Hensarling yet. (With these three in Washington, I really don't feel my views are very well represented, but I digress.) Hutchison was even worse than Cornyn in staying on topic. The letter she sent referenced product safety exactly zero times. I read it a few times just to make sure. The letter was all about trade policy. It is a related issue, but it is not the issue I contacted her about. I won't bore you with the letter.

I'm giving her staff a second chance to prove their reading comprehension. Here is my reply to the reply.

Dear Sen. Hutchison,

Thank you for your reply to my note regarding import product safety. Perhaps my original correspondence was unclear, as your reply only referenced trade policy but did not mention a word about product safety, the subject of my letter. Receiving a reply that does not address the subject of my correspondence is very frustrating. At a time when there are headlines every week for months on end about recalled products, I would hope that your office is focused on and responding to this very real problem impacting your constituents.

Briefly, I am concerned about the safety of foods and consumer products (especially toys) being imported to the United States. I want to know what actions you are taking to improve oversight of consumer product safety. Specifically, I urge you to support dramatically increased funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, providing more inspectors and oversight of the products that come into our country. As you know, this agency has been starved and as such is largely ineffectual against the flood of imports entering the country.

I am not opposed to international trade, and I do not believe that safe products and better oversight are at odds with good trade relations. The citizens of the United States need to have a degree of confidence in the safety of the goods they purchase. Our safety and our children’s safety are more important than any perceived economic benefit of lax to nonexistent oversight.

Thank you for your time.

I'll let you know in a few weeks if I get something back that addresses the topic.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Campaign to end extreme poverty

"WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty.

WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs - education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans - would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget.

WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all."

Add your voice. Sign the declaration at

Bonnie Anderson receives Texas welcome in Dallas and Fort Worth

This post may not be for everybody. Again, this blog is about stuff I'm interested in, so stop complainin' already!

Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church (TEC) spoke at our parish yesterday. She was here in the Diocese of Dallas by invitation of our church, but I think the real reason she was in town was to speak in Fort Worth on Saturday at the invitation of Ft. Worth Via Media and Brite Divinity School at TCU.

According to our rector, she was not in the town of the cow to “rabble-rouse” but answered questions from many concerned Episcopalians who have been living with an antagonistic bishop who derides the Episcopal Church that consecrated him at every opportunity. I can attest from listening to her speak that Bonnie Anderson does not seem like the type of person to go about stirring up trouble. She is very professional and straightforward, she knows her stuff, and she has a kind demeanor. Bishop Iker has already issued a statement denouncing her visit and suggesting that she visited without his permission. Of course as a lay person talking to other lay people, Anderson does not need to request permission of Bishop Iker to be in the boundaries of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

On Sunday morning at Transfiguration, Ms. Anderson preached on the Gospel text and did not drag church politics into the pulpit. The reading was the difficult bit about hating your own family in order to be a disciple. Bonnie talked about the need to change and leave behind what is comfortable to follow God’s call to us. Of course there is something in there that applies to the Recent Unpleasantness, whether it is explicitly spelled out for us or not. She ended the sermon with poetry that I would like to be able to reread and digest.

Between services, Anderson took questions from the congregation in a packed Roper Hall. From my recollection (no direct quotes here), among the notable points addressed were as follows:
* What will happen if Bishop Iker or another bishop tries to take their diocese out of the Episcopal Church? Anderson replied that this cannot happen as dioceses are the creation of General Convention. It would require an act of General Convention to allow this, and that won’t happen. If Iker were to renounce his orders and leave for another church (probably an African Anglican church), then the bishop’s seat would be declared vacant and a new bishop would be elected. To me this didn’t address the likely scenario that Iker would try to have it both ways and remove the diocese from TEC without formally renouncing his orders. In that case I believe he would have to be charged for violating his vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of TEC.

* If congregations cannot leave TEC, why was Christ Church Plano allowed to do so by Bishop Stanton of Dallas? This one took a few of our clergy to help answer, but it seems that Bishop Stanton may have violated some canons in allowing Christ Church to depart with their property, even though there was a financial settlement. There apparently is no plan by the diocese to plant a new Episcopal Church in Plano. (Someone made the pronouncement in asking a question that Plano was one of the most dynamic cities in the world. All I can say is, how small is our world…)

* If TEC gets “kicked out” of the Anglican Communion, how will we do mission without our mission partners around the globe? “Who is going to distribute the mosquito nets?” It is much more difficult to expel a province from the Anglican Communion than some of the louder voices would lead one to believe. The process is outlined here. But regardless of who declares TEC to be out of communion or heretical, our mission partners do not care and we will continue to have those relations so we can continue to do relief and development work throughout the globe.

Mary Frances Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service was traveling with Anderson and files her story on the President's Texas Hoedown here. Father Jake has this report. Episcopal Cafe has an entry as well with good info on the FW gathering.

Friday, September 7, 2007

You want what?

And in the category of "confuse the crap out of the conservative legislators" we have this little gem. Yes, the toy industry is asking to be regulated. How can they be friendly to industry and impose regulation? Does not compute! Toy makers, you just turned some people's world upside down.

And with that snarky post I wish you a happy Friday eve.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Clean Air for North Texas: what went wrong?

There is an important article in the Dallas Observer by Matt Pulle this week. It is the cover story (“Choke On It”), and it chronicles the efforts of environmentalists, elected officials, and business people in the North Texas region to clean up our terribly polluted air. The premise of the article is that these folks were well intentioned, but were not prepared to fight “the Austin way” during this year’s legislative session, and that they did not have a high profile champion for their cause (like the polluters did with former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk).

There’s actually some encouraging stuff in here, in that people in the region are relatively united and have solid plans that will significantly reduce air pollution in the region. Proposals range from getting dirty cars off the roads to adopting California exhaust standards to cleaning up our power plants and cement kilns to encouraging more mass transit. And much of it can be done with minimal economic impact (long term I think it would be easy to argue that the economic impact is positive).

The problem is that it is not up to the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee to present a plan to the EPA on how the region will come into compliance with federal clean air standards. It is up to the state. And the state legislature and governor are in the pockets of the polluters. So the state ignored the recommendations of the steering committee and presented a toothless plan to the EPA. From the article:

The members of the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee spent all those hours devouring graphs of chemical emissions to help the state draft the clean air plan for their region. Its members are in the best position to do just that. The committee has to live with the health and economic consequences of their clean air proposals. So what group has more credibility in making long-term decisions for the future of North Texas?

Well, for the state environmental commission, it wasn't the locals. When the state agency unveiled a draft of its clean air plan in December, it ignored the committee's main recommendations, particularly its calls for tighter regulations on cement kilns and power plants. It also ignored the steering committee's proposal to adopt California's emissions standards. Environmentalists lambasted the state's plan, saying that it had no chance of bringing North Texas in compliance with the 2010 federal deadline.

"The steering committee met for a year and a half before giving their recommendations, and as far as the state is concerned they simply weren't a factor," says Schermbeck with the environmental group Downwinders at Risk. "They raised their middle finger to what the locals here recommended."


In reference to the state’s plan, SMU professor Al Armendariz states: “They truly don't care. It's as if their clean air plan was farmed to a consultant in Taiwan. That's the level of care they are giving to the citizens of Dallas and Fort Worth."

Many of these folks on the steering committee are now lobbying the EPA to reject the state’s plan. Let’s hope they succeed. EPA officials have already stated that the plan will not bring the region into compliance.

And let’s also hope that we can get the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to start working for the people of Texas and not the polluters. It would also be nice to have someone from North Texas on the commission.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ultracapacitor wave of the future?

Isn’t that what Doc Brown used in Back to the Future?! I know, I know, it was a flux capacitor and it required plutonium to achieve 1.21 gigawatts of power – so this is even better than Back to the Future (except for the time travel part…)

This Associated Press article was buried in the business section yesterday about a new patent filing for “technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries,” which apparently could power an electric car for 500 miles on a five minute charge. It looks like some scientists are pretty skeptical, but if this technology were to pan out it would change the way we think about energy. We’re talking about the demise of the combustion engine, the replacement of the battery, and the efficient storage of solar power. Great Scott! And all without that pesky plutonium black market. Can it clean up after my cat too?

For the benefit of my Canadian readers (and I know you’re out there), here is the Canadianized version of the AP story, complete with kilometers.