A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Good Public Transit

How Much Can Public Transit Be Blamed for COVID-19 Outbreaks?

| 2 hours ago

When this whole global pandemic thing kicked off some months ago, reports that the virus spread quickly through crowded, dense cities appeared to raise some sharp questions about the future of urban places. In cities like New York, subways were shuttered and residents who could fled the city. Were cities—and dense cities which rely on public transit, in particular—especially vulnerable to global pandemics? An article in Scientific American suggests that initial fears of COVID-19’s spread on public transit, at least, were perhaps a tad overblown.

The article addresses an Atlantic opinion piece written by Janette Sadik-Khan, the former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, and Seth Solomonow, the co-author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. The pair argue that public transit can’t be linked to as many major outbreaks as bars and live music venues. Furthermore, avoiding public transit increases car use, which can create pollution, which can make people more vulnerable to respiratory diseases.

My initial reaction to this argument was skepticism. The premise doesn’t seem to make sense.

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Sports & Leisure

Another Look Back at the Greatest Comeback In High School Football History

| 3 hours ago
A screenshot that strikes fear into one fanbase.

You may recall back in November 1994, Bradford Pearson and I wrote an oral history about the famed Plano East-Tyler John Tyler high school football playoff game on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. You can relive the madness here, a truly mind-blowing sequence of events that will probably never be topped, short of the scene from The Dark Knight Rises actually happening in a real game, or maybe the opening scene of The Last Boy Scout.

But maybe hold off and read this account by The Athletic’s Mike Piellucci first. Piellucci, who you may remember from this fascinating story about the Dallas Aces and the golden age of competitive bridge, wrote about the game for the site’s ongoing series about the 40 greatest comebacks in sports.

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Local News

Leading Off (08/03/2020)

| 7 hours ago

COVID-19 Update. Dallas County reported 518 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. The latter puts us at 688 deaths.

Back the Blue Cruise Makes Curious Stop at Friendship West Baptist Church. Organizers say it was a misunderstanding and Dallas police say organizers got permission. But the church says they were asked for permission for a Black Live Matters rally. And Pastor Frederick Douglass Haynes III says, “There are seven or maybe eight mega-churches with big parking lots right in our area. They chose ours, that’s all I’ll say. We’re the only one out of those seven or eight that has a Black Lives Matter sign up. We’re the only one whose pastor is always out when it comes to these kinds of rallies and takes a stand against injustice. So I think the answer is real clear.” Haynes says it was intimidation. He and dozens of others marched outside Dallas police headquarters Sunday night.

Mavs Clinch Playoff Spot, But Lose to Suns. The Mavs were up 15 points and cooking. The Suns’ top two scorers, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, were both on the bench with five fouls apiece. And yet. They fell apart in the third quarter and that continued into the fourth and they never quite recovered, especially after an ill-timed flagrant by Dorian Finney-Smith paired with three foul shots by Booker. They ended up losing by two. That is two gut-punch losses for the Mavs to begin the NBA Restart. But, hey, they are officially in the playoffs.

“The Most Culturally Important Man” In Dallas. Read this obituary of the late art critic and curator Rick Brettell by Mark Lamster.

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North Texas’ ICU Capacity Reaches an All-Time Low with ‘Rampant’ Community Spread

| 3 days ago

Over the past couple of weeks, hospital capacity in North Texas has been depleted further, even as Dallas County reports fewer new cases of the coronavirus. On July 31, the state reported just 231 available intensive care unit beds in Dallas-Fort Worth, down 38 percent since July 21 when there were 370 beds. Overall, hospital capacity is down 27 percent since July 21 when 2,748 beds were available. By July 31, there were only 1,999 beds. 

Dallas County has recently reported lower case numbers than in weeks prior, with new cases hovering below 1,000 for most days. But increased hospitalizations mean individuals probably contracted the disease days or weeks ago. The increased positive case numbers from past weeks are reflected in current hospitalization rates. 

The lower positive case numbers may also be a result of reduced testing. According to state data, through much of July, Dallas County averaged around 5,000 tests administered per day between public and private sources. But since July 21, there have been five days where under 4,000 tests were administered, meaning the lower case totals may be connected to fewer tests.

Rather than new cases, which can be influenced by testing, Dallas County’s positivity rate reveals that the region is still not out of the woods. The seven-day rolling average in Dallas County is 18.3 percent. The 14-day rolling average is 20.8 percent, both well above the 10 percent threshold that experts say signifies that the spread is under control. 

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How the Union Can Help Save the Dallas Morning News

| 3 days ago

As Jim told you recently, the Dallas Morning News and Al Dia newsrooms are unionizing. As a procedural step, the Dallas News Guild asked the papers’ parent company, A.H. Belo Corp., to voluntarily recognize the union. This would have allowed the Guild to bargain with management over terms and conditions of employment. To the newsrooms, this is a necessary step given the instability of the news industry both pre-COVID-19 and now during the pandemic.

Management, as it often does, thinks otherwise. This week, Belo declined to recognize the union. According to the paper:

Publisher Grant Moise told the Dallas News Guild on Tuesday that it was in “everyone’s best interest” for all newsroom employees to have an opportunity to vote on whether to unionize. But he asked organizers to delay seeking an election for a year to give the company time to recover from the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on its finances.

The union quickly announced this action left it no choice but to move forward with formal elections, as this certification also allows unions to negotiate with management. I’m told the Guild will most likely begin that process next week. The News brass can still choose to voluntarily recognize the union at any time.

As a longtime manager in and out of newsrooms, I’m sympathetic to management’s concerns. Times are tough, and unions drive up pay.

I’m also extremely sympathetic toward unions. Both my grandfathers were union leaders, as was my longtime father-in-law. I think the Dallas News Guild’s desired outcomes—sustainable jobs, equality in the workplace, dignified working conditions, and the defense of ethical practices—are all worthwhile, even crucial.

That said, I’d like to give one bit of advice to management, and one to the union. I think both actions need to be taken if the paper is to become stronger from this unionizing effort.

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Why DFW Airport Is Now the Busiest Airport in the World

| 3 days ago

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the steps DFW Airport officials were taking to make flying safe in the world of COVID-19. One of the reasons DFW is serving as something of a guinea pig for the new safety measures is because, during the pandemic, the airport has emerged as the busiest in the world.

That fact may have jumped out to aviation aficionados. In 2019, DFW barely scraped into the list of the top 10 busiest world airports by passenger. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International saw the most passengers last year, with 110.5 million, followed by Beijing, LAX, Dubai International, Tokyo International, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow, Shanghai Pundong, and Paris-Charles de Gaulle. DFW usually ranks fourth for total takeoffs and landings.

But the pandemic has reshuffled the deck. According to a new report in Condé Nast Traveler, DFW has seen the most takeoffs and landings of any airport in the world for three months in a row. In June there were 25,294 takeoffs at DFW, which was enough to claim the top spot, even though the activity was still roughly half of January’s tallies. A frequent traveler quoted in the Condé Nast Traveler piece says the airport has been so busy at times passengers have had to wait to use crowded Skylink trains. Many concessions are open, though staff and passengers appear to be wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines.

The reason DFW Airport is so busy has to do with the pandemic strategy of its largest carrier, American Airlines.

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Arts & Entertainment

Federal Relief or Not, the Reality at Dallas Cultural Venues Is Dire

| 3 days ago

Since mid-March, Dallas’ cultural venues have been eerily quiet. Thousands of seats in cavernous concert halls remain empty. The stages are dark, the general admission floors are empty. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just changed business for many in the live event industry. There is no business. While Congress considers a bipartisan bill that would cover nearly half of a venue’s operating costs, the outlook is grim. 

Deep Ellum was hit particularly hard. There are about 25 live performance venues in the neighborhood. So when efforts to curb the coronavirus restricted large gatherings, the neighborhood’s lights dimmed. 

“We’ll go around at night and it’s dead still–feels like we’re in small-town America or something,” says Clint Barlow, owner of the Bomb Factory, Canton Hall, and Trees. All three venues have been shuttered for nearly five months. Barlow says he is paying his employees out of his own pocket. 

Lily Cabutu Weiss, executive director of the Dallas Arts District, says the district’s venues have lost $23 million through May 31. Citywide, a survey of 57 arts organizations found total losses at $34 million through the end of May; most of the losses are concentrated in the Arts District. At the nonprofit AT&T Performing Arts Center, about 60 percent of the staff has been furloughed. 

Survival is an active process for the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which is starved for ticket revenue and ancillary income from concessions and parking. It’s bringing in almost nothing. The center created a “Raise the Curtain Campaign” to encourage donations and still retains contributed income from sponsors. That source of revenue has suffered, too, as a recession impacts every business’ financial standing.

“We thought it would be short term and the dynamics of this thing were that almost every day, but certainly every week, the new facts were surfacing that the case rate was going up … so every week, the news really got more dire,” said Debbie Storey, president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. “We spent week after week after week just saying, ‘What if we can’t open till April? What if we can’t open until July? What if we can’t open until September?’’

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Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: Sai Selvarajan’s ‘She Don’t Have To See You (To See Through You)’

| 3 days ago

She said, “I guess you can only eat the salad here?”

I said, “Pretty much.”

She said, “Is that what it’s like being a vegetarian in Dallas?”

I said, “Nah, it’s all right, there’s some nice spots around town”

What she didn’t know was the underworld, the door to door, the non-state-inspected kitchens, the aunties, The Brown Market.

You see, life finds a way. Even in a city like Dallas where BBQ and big hair reign supreme—aunties, Sri Lankan aunties, find a way to make and sell Sri Lankan delicacies on a mass scale. It’s word-of-mouth marketing: you call a land line, you get a disgruntled teen who hands a phone to an auntie, she takes an order, and, in a day or two, the disgruntled teen delivers a tray of food to your house.

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Local News

Leading Off (7/31/20)

| 3 days ago

Your Daily Coronavirus Update. Yesterday, Dallas County added another 537 cases and six deaths, continuing a downward trend. This was a much better day than Wednesday, when the county added 704 cases and a record 36 deaths. We know deaths often lag new cases, so the jump isn’t totally unexpected. But it’s terrific news that we didn’t set another record. Hospitalizations jumped to 658 and about a quarter of all ER visits are related to COVID-19. Statewide cases dipped below 10,000 to 8,800. County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging residents to purchase takeout and stay out of restaurants. This feels like a holding pattern; let’s hope the dips continue.

Texas Superintendents Are None Too Happy With Ken Paxton. The attorney general’s new guidance “muddied the waters” after Gov. Greg Abbott gave local health authorities permission to push back the beginning of school at least until September 8. Paxton sent a letter contradicting that, saying public health officials could not keep campuses closed indefinitely to slow the spread of coronavirus. As such, if schools don’t open, they risked losing state funding. Here’s the quote from the Texas Association of School Administrators: “We believe schools should have the authority to work with local health officials to determine when it is safe for schools to be open for in-person instruction without the threat of funding cuts by the state.”

Dwaine Caraway Is Staying In Jail. A federal judge denied the disgraced councilman’s request to spend the remainder of his sentence at home due to his health problems and the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. The judge found that Caraway’s argument was not enough, that it did not present any “extraordinary and compelling” evidence that he should be granted home confinement. Caraway’s co-conspirator, Robert Leonard, also was denied his request to be sent home. They’ll both probably petition the Bureau of Prisons for the same thing.

We Got Ourselves a Cold Front. Even if that only means that our high is just 92, it’s a nice deal. Less humidity is in the forecast, too. As I type this, it’s 75. It’ll be 84 by noon. Maybe take a morning walk.

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Mariana Griggs and Her Outlaw Oak Cliff Garden

| 4 days ago

Mariana Griggs thinks I have said things about her in the past that were not true. I don’t think I ever said what she says I said. I might have implied it. Maybe. I never said it. But, OK, let’s just clear the decks anyway.

Mariana Griggs, wife of former council member and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, says she never went out one night 10 years ago and painted DIY bike lanes on Dallas streets with a traffic-lane striping machine. I must take her at her word.

A moment after telling me this, however, she gets a look in her eye. She says, “But I do know who did.” Well, forgive me, but to my nose that carries a whiff of complicity. The thing about those bike lanes: whoever painted them got the city’s attention. Within a few years, “official” bike lanes were sprouting all over Dallas.

But back to Mariana Griggs. We have to look at what I believe the clinical psychologists would call a sustained pattern of behavior. It has been 10 years now since the alleged renegade bike lane painting matter. I sit now with her on the front steps of the stately Griggs home on Montclair Avenue in the Winnetka Heights Historic District of Oak Cliff, gazing out onto a full-blown vegetable garden in the broad strip of land between the sidewalk and the street where there is supposed to be grass. This is also what Mariana Griggs does. She is a founding partner of an urban micro-farm called Granja Urbana, which helps people learn to farm in urban areas. Now she’s found a new patch to work on.

But prominently displayed on bamboo poles at one end of the garden is an orange stop work order from the city. I don’t see any work stopping.

“I did talk to a city code person,” she tells me. “She was very nice. Very professional. She said, ‘I’m putting a stop work order in your garden, because you need to get permission before you continue.’”

The thing being, once you plant a vegetable garden, especially in the summer in Texas, you can’t just stop watering and tending it or you might as well pour gasoline on it and strike a match. So she is still watering and tending. But is that the same thing as continuing?

Griggs has always operated in an area where forgiveness is sought more readily than permission. “If I had asked permission to do this,” she says, “I was never going to get it.” Her garden is at the front of her house rather than in the ample backyard, she says, because the front of the house is where the sunlight falls.

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Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: Jesus De La Torre’s ‘Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand’

| 4 days ago

We used to watch Forensic Files until dawn or until fear invaded us. Our one takeaway being that a lot of people were now dead over life insurance money. You made me promise then that we’d never kill each other via minute, imperceptible amounts of arsenic, that we’d never even consider pulling the teeth out of one of our lifeless heads for the sake of getting away with murder. I remember you’d get up and check the locks often—to keep people out, you said, and to keep me in.

At the time you were taking literature courses at the community college across the street and you’d read aloud the texts you were assigned. Because you’d implied at one point that I was shallow or vain—I can’t remember which (probably both)—I would sit through it all and say things after lengthy passages to impress you:

Goneril and Regan are dicks. And later, Poseidon is, too. And so on in that vein.

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Local News

Leading Off (7/30/20)

| 4 days ago

Dallas County Reports a Record 36 Deaths Due to COVID-19. There were also 704 new cases yesterday.

New Sexual Assault Allegations Against Tony Ronzone Raise Questions for the Mavericks, as Well as Sports Illustrated. An investigation published yesterday by SI claims that that the team failed to fully investigate allegations of sexual assault against Tony Ronzone, the director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, which were raised by a woman in July 2019. The Mavericks issued a swift response, raising some valid questions about why a number of pieces of evidence referred to by SI, including contemporaneous statements the woman made to others at the time of the alleged assault, were never released, even in redacted form, to the team. The Mavericks further state that The Bloom Firm, which represents the woman, refused to release the evidence unless “the Mavs came to the negotiating table to discuss a settlement” and agreed to a number of stipulations. The Mavericks also raised some less valid questions, insinuating that the woman’s failure to file a police report was proof of her lack of credibility. (RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, states that of every 1,000 incidents of sexual assault, 230 are reported to police and only 5 result in a felony conviction.) I’m sure more details will be forthcoming, and I’m interested to see what they are.

City of Dallas Extends Furlough for More Than 400 Employees. Many who have been going unpaid since May, including library and rec center staff, have been notified that they will continue to be off work through at least the end of September.

Joyrides Are a Dumb Idea, and Good Deeds Aren’t Always Returned in Kind. A 15-year-old was taken into custody yesterday after allegedly stealing two vehicles, the second of which was a truck owned by a good Samaritan who stopped to help after the teen crashed the first stolen car into a highway barrier in Grapevine. Police say after an ensuing chase, the teen began driving toward the officer, causing the officer to fire four rounds at the truck, none of which struck the teen. The teen then continued to drive into Southlake, where he crashed the truck into another vehicle and started running. That’s when a police dog finally took him down.

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