Leading Off (8/22/14)

Another Shooting by a Dallas Cop. It’s the fourth involving the city’s police force in the last two weeks. Dallas officers have shot 10 people so far this year, and seven have died — one of those was unarmed. (Compare that number to 12 in all of 2013.) Thursday night’s incident took place near the Dallas VA Medical Center. The man who was shot reportedly had himself shot a woman in the jaw.

State Allows Waste Control Specialists to Bury More Radioactive Waste. Dallas’ most evil genius may no longer be in charge of the company, but his vision for bringing byproducts of nuclear power plants to a site in West Texas lives on. The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality has approved changes that will allow WCS to accept triple the amount they could previously.

TCEQ Cites XTO For Stealing Water. The state agency says the company, which is owned by Exxon Mobil, took almost 1.4 million gallons of water to which it was not entitled, which it used for fracking.

Cowboys Linebacker Suffers Career-Ending Injury. DeVonte Holloman left Saturday’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens with a spinal injury, and doctors are advising that he never again play football.

Cowboys to Break Ground on Frisco HQ. Construction will kick off Friday, and the team expects to officially move from Valley Ranch to its new home for the 2016 season.

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Can Texas Support a Privately Funded Bullet Train?

The Texas Tribune today has a piece about the proposed bullet train from Dallas to Houston, which we’ve mentioned before. The big question, of course, is whether the money for the privately funded project will materialize:

Richard Arena, a transportation and infrastructure consultant who sits on the board of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, said he believes Texas Central’s project could become the first truly high-speed rail system in the country, but he has concerns about the project’s financing. In particular, he’s not clear how the Dallas-Houston line will manage to earn enough revenue to pay off the interest on the billions of dollars’ worth of bonds that will likely have to be issued to fund the construction. Such financial challenges are why some public subsidies are the norm for public rail systems, he said.

“I still have skepticism of where the funding is going to come long-term,” Arena said.

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Museum Tower Shows Strong Uptick in Sales

Last night, I was leaving downtown shortly before 10 o’clock when I espied Museum Tower and what appeared to be about six of its residents still awake and with their lights on. “Either that tower is still very empty,” I thought, “or the folks who live there turn in early.” So, once again, I combed through the numbers in DCAD.

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John Oliver vs. Ace Cash Express and Other Payday Lenders

Last night on his HBO show, John Oliver did a 16-minute segment on predatory payday lenders, including Irving-based Ace Cash Express. Oliver rightly went on the attack against an industry that legally gets away with charging usurious interest rates and (as we’ve mentioned before) trains its employees in how to catch customers in a vicious cycle of borrowing.

He played clips from this explanatory video produced by Ace, which features a pleasant woman pleasantly describing how the company “will work with you” if you can’t get a loan paid back on time.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The Stoneleigh, Heartbreak Hotel

Have you heard anyone refer to the Stoneleigh Hotel on Maple Avenue as Le Méridien Dallas? I haven’t, thankfully. Just like when the Melrose Hotel on Oak Lawn was rechristened with a corporate name — in that case, the Warwick — local tradition has remained important enough that ownership had to maintain the historic moniker.

I understand why these hotel operators feel the need to place established brands on their acquisitions. They want to reassure out-of-town visitors who’ve stayed at their other properties, but who are unfamiliar with Dallas, that they will receive the same quality of experience they’ve had in other cities. It’s the same reason that McDonald’s continues to do big business — familiarity counts for a lot with consumers. Why risk eating at a mom-and-pop burger joint that may not be any good when McDonald’s is right down the street and you know precisely what you’re going to get, as mediocre as it might be?

So there’s financial sense in enticing guests to book a room at Le Méridien Dallas, The Stoneleigh (the property’s mouthful of an official name). But I don’t have to like it, and neither should you. It dilutes and degrades the sense of place that the hotel built over the decades — even after its major renovation in the mid-Aughts — to paint it as just another link in a chain. Good for business, bad for the soul.

I feel this loss even more painfully after re-reading A.C. Greene’s November 1977 story about the prevalence of recently separated and divorced men living at the Stoneleigh. It’s one of the 40 greatest stories ever published in D Magazine.

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Wired Looks at Ladar Levison’s Secure Email Project

In case you missed it (I did), on Friday Wired published a story about our favorite alliterative email service provider, Ladar Levison. Ladar is currently holed up in a house in North Texas, cranking away on his next project, a super-secure email system called Dark Mail. The Wired story goes into how this new email system will work, but more interesting is Ladar’s collaborator Stephen Watt:

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Clayton Williams Runs For Governor

I sort of remember Bill Clements vs. Mark White in 1986, but the first Texas gubernatorial election to which I paid any measurable attention was state treasurer Ann Richards’ victory over West Texas oilman Clayton Williams in 1990. The GOP wasn’t yet the wholly dominant party in our state, but neither did the Democrats still hold the iron grip they’d maintained politically since Reconstruction.

My memory of the election centers on Williams’ TV ad in which he explained his plan to put drug offenders to work busting rocks in hard-labor boot camps rather than lounging around in luxurious prison cells. Behind him is shown a group of college students who were dressed up as convicts, swinging pick axes and shovels. I was in junior high school and not terribly political at the time, but I remember thinking that this guy was laying on the tough-on-crime schtick a little thick.

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What It Feels Like When You Shutter a Furr’s Fresh Buffet

Perhaps you heard about the Furr’s thing. There was a Furr’s Fresh Buffet off LBJ and S. Hampton. It closed. Councilman Dwaine Caraway is not happy about that. He said:

“That Furr’s was doing mega-business. Mega-business. And it closed out of nowhere. People showed up for work and didn’t know it was closed. And you know I am not happy about it. I am shocked, unhappy and disappointed. I am real ticked about it. We participate and patronized it, and overnight it’s taken away from us. It’s like giving a kid a special computer game for Christmas, and all of the sudden he comes home and it’s taken away from him.”

I feel his pain — but in a slightly different way. Depending on the season and my mood, when a Furr’s closes …

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ACE Cash Express and Its Shameful Acts

UPDATE (9:44) On its website, ACE makes it impossible to figure out who sits on its board. I turned to Bloomberg, which I linked to below, in stating that Rawlings sits on the board. He hasn’t held that position for five years. My apologies for the error.

Jason mentioned in Leading Off this morning that Irving-based ACE Cash Express has agreed to pay $10 million to get the government off its back over the way the company takes advantage of the working poor, using “false threats, intimidation, and harassing calls to bully payday borrowers into a cycle of debt.” Couple of questions. Is Ron Washington still doing ACE Cash ads? He should stop. Next question: when is Mayor Mike Rawlings going to step down from the ACE Cash board? If he’s really sincere about his GrowSouth initiative, he should do it today.

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Leading Off (7/11/14)

How Soon Until Every Dallas Highway Is Tolled? Tomorrow new express lanes will open on Interstate 35E, allowing drivers to pay to bypass the usually congested interchange from I-35E to Interstate 635. Meanwhile some Collin County leaders are pushing back against a Texas Department of Transportation proposal to make the HOV lane on U.S. Highway 75 a managed toll lane. Their counterproposal is to get rid of the HOV lane entirely, opening it up for all traffic.

ACE Cash Express to Pay $10 Million For Illegal Tactics. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that the payday lender used false threats, intimidation, and harassing calls to bully borrowers. ACE also took on new loans to pay off old loans, purposefully driving customers even further into debt. The company’s training manual even had a graphic depicting how to keep the vicious cycle going.

Abducted Boy Reunited With Father.  At age 2, Drew Drees was taken by his mother, who didn’t have custodial rights after she and his father had divorced, to India. Eight years later, she returned with Drew and was promptly arrested at DFW Airport after arriving yesterday.

It’s July 11. Free slurpees, everybody.

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The Economist on Downtown Dallas’ Rejuvenation

A correspondent for one of the Economist’s blogs was recently in Dallas for the New Cities Summit, and writes about how downtown has transformed in the last 30 years:

It is clear that the old Dallas is fading into a distant memory. Today the downtown of America’s ninth-most populous city has thriving museums, performing-arts spaces, a green market, restaurants and innovative retailers that are bringing people back to its pavements. Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland may be struggling to reinvent themselves, but Dallas has prospered, not only because of its oil wealth and low taxes, but also because the city and private-sector developers and investors have combined their efforts.

The author gives the Joule Hotel an awful lot of credit for rejuvenating downtown, more than maybe it alone deserves, and things aren’t maybe quite so active throughout downtown as they’re painted, but there is no denying that Dallas has made progress.

Anyway, here’s my favorite bit, in the conclusion:

Thanks to this attitude, the atrophied downtown area from three decades ago that Mrs Forsythe-Lill remembered is being wiped from the memory faster than Sue Ellen Ewing could get to the bottom of a bottle of vodka.

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Why It Matters That the Morning News Failed at Paid Content

When I read this morning that the Dallas Morning News is giving up on its “premium content” experience  (which it launched last fall), my first reaction was to think “they’re still offering a premium content experience?” I have a subscriber’s log-in that I could use to access the site, but many months ago I stopped bothering to do so because the time it took to type in the email address and password wasn’t worth the payoff.

I wouldn’t do as the Morning News’ own story today has done and categorize this experience as a failed attempt at premium content. I’d instead think of it as an “incomplete,” given that there wasn’t anything terribly “premium” about the Morning News experience.

We have to get readers to pay for the content they want. We’re going to have to. I doubt greatly that the Morning News, in ending this experiment, has completely abandoned that fact. They’re just going to look for another means of doing it. In which case, I have a proposal.

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Meh.com Launches! And There Was Much Apathy!

Kickstarter contributors got access yesterday, but Meh.com launched this morning for the rest of us. As Matt Rutledge promised, you’ll find just one deal today. It’s an iRobot Roomba 560, a refurb model from 2007. iRobot sells the things for $249. The Meh price? Just $179. That seems a little better than meh. What I find most intriguing about the site, though, is that it shows everyone its sales figures in real time. As of 9:30 this morning, 13,201 people had visited the site; 836 people clicked the “meh” button (I was one of them); and 28 people bought a Roomba. There’s also a map showing where the buyers hail from. That’s transparency. As for the product writeup, the art at which Rutledge’s old Woot.com excelled so brilliantly at times, this one did not impress. When I was working on my profile of him, Rutledge showed me a writeup they were considering for an upcoming product. It was hysterical and packed with vulgarity — something Amazon would never do. I hope they try it.

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