SocraticGadfly: 10/22/06 - 10/29/06

October 28, 2006

Finally, after 24 years

Yes, it was an ugly World Series, and one kind of handed to us on a platter.

In fact, it was a World Series so ugly that Tim McCarver was, briefly at least, smarter than Tony La Russa, calling him out for leaving Chris Duncan in after the (first) error. (I think scorers ought to have the leeway to award errors on untouched misplayed balls.)

Fact is, a team came together, after being apart (how far, we may never know) during the middle of the year, and dinged up for a lot of it.

And the Cards reached No. 10. We’ll take it however it comes, and look at its bright points, to boot, like a rejuvenated Rolen or a promising Weaver.

October 27, 2006

Is $325 enough for Culinary Arts? And when is a raise not a raise?

That’s all the money the Lancaster High School program gets for its food budget. Depending on the number of students involved, that’s not buying much beyond the level of frozen vegetables … unless the teacher’s dipping into her own purse.

Which is happening in other high school programs, I believe. Some of them get less than that $325.

That, in turn, means that a raise is not always a raise.

October 26, 2006

The specific language of the Lancaster School District bond election:

Per Dallas County Elections’ sample ballot:


Now, if one wants to be technical, it says NOTHING about school equipment, i.e., computers. Also, while the board guarantees bonds will only be issued as needed, there is no legal restriction toward that end. Of course, you can’t DO such a legal restriction — a current elective governmental body is prohibited from encumbering a future one.

Mark Foley e-mail leaker fired by gay rights group — and rightly so

Human Rights Campaign said it fired the staffer, whose name it did not disclose, for misusing the group’s resources.

Why rightfully so on the firing?

It seems apparent the employee was ginning up a gay rights/hypocritical GOP gay bashing issue under cover of claiming to address child sexual abusers.

So now, we have the issue of child sexual abuse being politicized by being wrongly linked with a political campaign about GOP hypocrisy.

Oops, Kathy Goolsby; let’s get the right year

The Dallas Morning News reporter claims the Lancaster School District has added 1,132 students since August 2005.


That would be August 2004.

Wonder if she misread her notes, wrote something down wrong (assuming she did not have a tape recorder), or if she was given the wrong information.

New Skeptics’ Circle is up

See it here. I’ll be glad when local elections are done so I can get back to submitting stuff there. (If it’s OK for me to gallivant.)

CIA tries to silence EU governmental outcry on renditions

And it apparently worked

Once again, Germany and apparently other European Union nations stand accused in the docket of hypocrisy on human rights issues, and once again with good reason.

The Guardian is reporting the CIA offered to let Germany see a German national imprisoned in Morocco and suspected of al Qaeda links if it would then work to silence protests at home against CIA renditions of al Qaeda suspects to third countries for torture and “torture lite” interrogation.

And — it worked.

The nut grafs:
According to a secret intelligence report, the CIA offered to let Germany have access to one of its citizens, an al-Qaida suspect being held in a Moroccan cell. But the US secret agents demanded that in return, Berlin should cooperate and "avert pressure from EU" over human rights abuses in the north African country.

After the CIA offered a deal to Germany, EU countries adopted an almost universal policy of downplaying criticism of human rights records in countries where terrorist suspects have been held. They have also sidestepped questions about secret CIA flights partly because of growing evidence of their complicity.

This shouldn’t really surprise anybody who has followed the rendition issue closely. I blogged here early this spring that Schroeder’s German government had blood on its hands over the al Masri abduction.

I wonder how much more will have to come out before the left wing of the SPD — let alone the former Communist far left — erupts.

And, see a pattern here? Tony Blair’s Labor — New Left. U.S Democrats who supported the war (and are still less critical about it, or its means) — Democratic Leadership Council, the U.S. version of the New Left. Gerhard Schroeder’s revived Social Democratic Party? New Left.

Belo’s butt is in a sling now!

Read the age-discrimination and pension-mismanagement lawsuit against the News; a number of former employees are alleging age discrimination and connecting it to a post-2000 split in pension offerings.

That said, I know age-discrimination lawsuits aren’t easy to prove. But the pension mismanagement issues, including ERISA issues, stand independent of the age of any employees.

Remember the Liberty?

Nearly 40 years after Israel deliberately fired on the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War, Germany alleges something similar but of smaller scale off the coast of Lebanon.

Would it surprise me? No. At first, you think it was accidental, but the evasive tactics after firing raise suspicion.

But why? Why would Israel do something like this? Cui bono, to quote the legal phrase? Simple muscle-flexing, it appears. Silly brinkmanship would be more accurate a description.

I’m not buying what Zig Ziglar is selling for Election Day

A Ziglar-voiced robocall was on my answering machine this evening, encouraging me to vote for judges with “Judeo-Christian” values.

First, which Judeo-Christian values, Zig? The Jesus of Mark who told his followers to reject the entire Torah’s writings about dietary laws? The Jesus as voiced by Paul, who told his followers to ignore even the law given pre-Abraham, pre-Judaism, to Noah, about proper animal slaughter?

Second, what about all the Indians in Richardson? What if they want judges with Hindu values? What about the Palestinians and other Muslims in the Metroplex? What if they want judges with Muslim values?

Zig also calls us not to elect judges legislating from the bench. Well, Zig, since I didn’t have a chance to vote for or against five Supreme Court justices in 2000 (although Gore brought that in part on himself by trying to cherry-pick recounts), there’s nothing I can do about those damned conservative activist judges legislating from the bench.

October 25, 2006

The other reason for concern about a slowdown in housing sales

Builders have to keep dropping prices to sell new houses the longer they stay on the market. That, in turn, depresses existing home prices.

And that, in turn, eventually affects appraisals. That, then affects the property tax base.

How much? I’m not going to try to be any more specific than in my Oct. 19 editorial. I’m just saying it’s something to watch for.

Nationally, more on the slowing housing market — Dallas builder Centex slashes overhead

Centex said its third-quarter profit
plunged 60 percent and so it had to write off more than $130 million in costs. Centex said its home sales declined 7 percent and its profits more than 24 percent. It said sales orders in the Southwest region, which includes the Metroplex, were off 14 percent from last year; it cut its earnings projects for the fiscal year (which runs concurrent with the calendar year) by 40 percent.

October 24, 2006

Lancaster local elections — the X factor

Nobody knows how the Lancaster School District bond election, the beer-and-wine package sales initiative or the Lancaster City Charter amendments contest will be affected by the general election.

In the six and one-half years I’ve been here, it’s the first time a proposition has fallen on a November general election ballot. There are several ways this could play out.

If local voters are in an anti-government mood, it could work against both the school bond and the charter election (the latter of which I think is going to drop like a rock anyway). Beer and wine are counting on the general election to help their cause, but I don’t really see them overcoming the 62-38 losing margin of 2004.

Yet another sign of a weakening D/FW housing market

D.R. Horton pulls out of
buying Hank Haney’s McKinney golf ranch.

Here’s the key points relevant to the housing slowdown:
What happened to Mr. Haney illustrates the pitfalls a growing number of property owners face. The housing market is getting weaker, and homebuilders are pulling out of projects.

Horton's cancellation rate for new homes for its fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 30, climbed to 40 percent, up significantly from 29 percent in the third quarter. The company received 1,252 fewer orders for new homes in the 12 months ending in September than in the year-ago period.

So, Ellen Clark and Hank Haney, along with real estate analysts, all see the signs of a slowing housing market. Is City Manager Jim Landon listening as he drives other people, like Superintendent Larry Lewis, around the town?

Sidebar: Well-known Horton manager Steve Topletz was the principal involved on its side. And it sounds like Haney’s thinking about suing. Given that Topletz has filed or threatened enough suits in the past, turnabout would certainly be fair play. On the other hand, it sounds like Haney goofed by not having a 30-day clause for getting his personal property off the site after the sale closed. On the third hand, why wouldn’t Horton/Topletz have this in the contract in the first place?

Sidebar 2: It’s said when I can’t find this story on the Morning News website after doing not one but two keyword searches and Google News spits it up immediately. Score another for the Snooze, even with its vaunted move to a more online-based newspaper.

Lancaster, as pure, pristine and true as “Father Knows Best”; who’s spinning tales now?

Margie Waldrop, in her letter to the editor this week, talks about a 1980s-90s Lancaster that sounds like — and as realistic as — one of the 1950s nuclear family TV shows.

She talks, among other things, about Lancaster School District being “a trend-setter for the state.” And that a failed late 1980s bond issue flushed that all down the drain.

From what I’ve read in Lancaster Today archives, and talked over with at least one person from back then, it was a trend-setter in how not to do things, if anything.

She also doesn’t get into racial demography issues and changes from back then. Nor, apropos a previous post of mine on how city government also got behind the times by failing to update development codes, she doesn’t talk about how a commercial real estate broker could not do more about that.

October 23, 2006

“Astroturf” letters to the editor — at the local level

Yes, it doesn’t just happen in national politics. Two letters supporting the Lancaster School Bond are identical, after the first two sentences.

Sounds like Ellen Clark may not be so bullish about the housing market either

In an upcoming letter to the editor, she says:
If your value for next year went up 15 percent or to $115,000 your taxes at $1.50 would be $1,725 or basically the same as this year. Since our residential market is almost flat very few are going to have a 15 percent increase in tax value unless you are extremely undervalued in 2006. (emphasis added)

More food for thought. Feel free to ask City Manager Jim Landon or any of the downtown oldtimers if they agree with Ellen, since she is a long-time, downtown real estate agent.

Update, Oct. 28: OK, wipe the snarkiness off my face, somewhat (but not entirely). Ellen e-mailed my office e-mail and said the "almost flat" referred only to prices. Fair enough. Of course, that gets back to other posts of mine about the city being at least one development code behind the curve in promoting better building down here and how a lot of people let that happen for a lot of years.

Bond: Vote Yes and LISD information signs - similarity

I'm not saying WHY they're similar, but the Lancaster School District bond election information signs and the Vote Yes signs now popping up look quite similar.

Originally-planned Cedardale school vs. new Houston School

Nobody is disagreeing that northside elementary schools in Lancaster are crowded.

BUT, the original construction plan from the 2004 bond was to build a new elementary school on or near Cedardale Road. If that had happened, we could have kept the old Houston School open and not had such pressures this year.

I don’t know why that fell through; nor do I know who is more to blame, if anybody wants shares of blame. But, I’m sure there was fault on both sides.

Or, the district could have adopted Jeff Melcher’s suggestion, unwieldy as it might have been, of keeping both old and new Houstons open.

October 22, 2006

WHERE is Bobby Thomson? ESPN backs the bus up over baseball history

ESPN currently has a pop-up window slide-type show of the top 50 baseball postseason performances ever.

Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard Around the World,” giving the Giants the pennant over the Dodgers in a three-game playoff, is nowhere to be found.

OK, maybe it was a special playoff and not part of regularly scheduled postseason games. But, it WAS a playoff!

And, on a separate webpage that links from that Thompson’s epic feat is NOT among the top 10 events of the 1950s to be voted on.


City of Lancaster, not just school district, in catch-up mode

Regardless of how one feels about current — or past — Lancaster School District administration(s), I don’t think rational people will argue that the district is behind the curve on maintenance at older schools, and at least getting closer to the curve on additional classroom space.

However, it’s also arguable that the city of Lancaster is behind the curve on development issues, has been for more than a decade, and with less justification than the school district.

School growth takes bond issues, which need voter approval.

Improved and enhanced city development codes simply take city staff and a consultant coming up with ideas for where and how a development code needs to be improved. After that, it’s off to a vote by a city’s planning and zoning commission, then its city council. No voter approval needed.

The city development code update approved last year in Lancaster was good as far as it went, but could have gone further, especially on things like green building standards, which are not only good for the environment, but a value-added factor for new homes well beyond their actual construction cost, as places like Frisco know. I begged the city’s consultant to get something in; I can take a good guess why it wasn’t, but if you have city leadership that’s not always big on environmental issues, that can happen, if my guess is correct.

Point is, even that should have been passed at least a year before it was. Unfortunately, the Mills Branch Initiative didn’t spur the thought of updating the entire development code at that time, which would have gotten something on the books almost two years earlier. That, in turn, would have slowed down the number of low-cost homes. It is true that the city increased lot and house sizes for various zoning categories earlier this decade, but that by itself wasn’t enough.

For that matter, when Lancaster residents started complaining about how developers treated Lancaster, nearly a decade ago, why weren’t city staffs and elected city officials already working to upgrade the development code at that time?

I have no doubt there’s a lot of blame to be thrown about. On the other hand, looking ahead, it’s not too late to ramp development standards up even tighter before the end of this decade.