Saturday, April 28, 2012

PUPPY SET ON FIRE DIES AND NOW THE REACTION

While many are trying to educate and sensitize our youth that cruelty to animals is a crime against Humanity and All Life, others would trivialize any such acts. Those who would minimize or dismiss these heinous acts just don’t get it and become a major part of the problem. To them life is cheap or just offers the opportunity for a political sound bite. Such is the case here in Dallas, Texas. If you figure that the Michael Vick case got everybody’s attention then you would be wrong…

On April 4, 2012 a gang of what has been characterized as “laughing” teenage boys abused (including strangulation) and ultimately set a puppy on fire in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood here in Dallas. Their efforts to kill would have been successful then had it not been for the brave intercession of a woman who put out the fire. Appropriately, the puppy was named Justice, though alarmingly so, as he was named in honor of another Pleasant Grove dog that was set on fire three years ago. Despite a gallant battle and the heroic ministrations of the animal hospital at Texas A&M, Justice died as a result of burns over 70% of his body.

According to the police report, witnesses identified Darius Ewing as the perpetrator who poured lighter fluid on the dog then threw a lit cigarette on the animal igniting the lighter fluid setting the puppy on fire. An arrest warrant was issued for Ewing even as the investigation continued with the intent to identify and bring to justice all involved in the abuse. Ewing turned himself in and reflecting the seriousness of the charge, bond was set at $100,000.00. Ewing remains behind bars. Police state they have identified other suspects but will not comment further until they are in custody.

Now comes Ewing’s family standing behind the “Reverend” Ronald Wright a self-proclaimed civil rights leader and Executive Director of the newly minted (2010) Justice Seekers Texas. While apparently a fixture in South Dallas no one seems to know much about him but here he is and for $60.00 a year you can join his crusade. His latest demand is that Ewing’s bond be reduced since, “The bond set at $100,000 for killing a stray dog is an insult to the African-American community. It says that dogs are more important when it comes to African-American men." Yes, he really said that – and on television! Family members proclaimed Ewing’s innocence with one commenting that, after all, it was only a stray dog. Hmmmmm.

We say if they want the bond reduced, pursue established legal channels and petition the court instead of publicly playing what is an absurd race card. Forums and threads on the Internet have been overwhelmingly supportive of police apprehending all the perpetrators and the legal system punishing them to the fullest extent of the law for this heinous act. Reputable sources indicate that cruelty to animals has long been an indicator and marker of those who would ultimately do violence against those weak and disadvantaged – the vulnerable in our society - to include the homeless, handicapped, elderly, etc. And let us pose the question - why would a young man be carrying lighter fluid with him…..? I used to smoke and know many others as well and we never carried lighter fluid with us. And that was in the age of the Zippo…

Legal experts have speculated that if convicted, Ewing could face up to a $10,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison since animal cruelty is now a felony. The fact that an accelerant like lighter fluid was used could be interpreted as use of a deadly weapon in animal cruelty cases in Dallas County appropriately adding – further fuel to the fire.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is absolutely determined to find whoever/whomever set the puppy on fire prompting the group to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the dog's abusers, well up from its original $5,000 offer. Bottom Line: 99.9999% of our citizenry is absolutely outraged by this act in direct contrast to Ronald Wright. We are aligned with the SPCA and the greater majority of those who demand that we draw a line and demand justice. All that would be in contrast to those few who, as in the case of Michael Vick, would prefer to just give the kid the key to the city…

While this writer happens to be Christian, we do appreciate the fundamental wisdom of all great religions including Islam. The following quote attributed to the Prophet Muhammad should remind us all of an essential, undeniable truth, “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Sunday, April 8, 2012

MARGARET HUNT HILL CALATRAVA BRIDGE GOES NOWHERE?

That’s the opinion of some in our city and while I see their point, I don’t buy into their “gentrification” or some of the liberal race-baiting theories that have West Dallas and north Oak Cliff being sold to the highest bidder at the expense of its low income residents. Having said that, these areas will need the accelerated support and participation of all the residents of Dallas and we do need a mixed-income strategy. Note that we live in far north Dallas but like to go to Oak Cliff through West Dallas on forays to their great post office, the wonderful Bishop Arts District and, of course, Tejano’s, Gloria’s and BEE (Best Enchiladas Ever). While we may not be residents, nothing could keep us from visiting and supporting areas that remain viscerally and historically important to our city. Maybe at some future point we’ll be stopping in West Dallas. More on this later…

We initially perceived the new bridge as leading edge architecture and art, not as something intended to lighten or ease our traffic burdens in the area – maybe a new, outsized offering of the Nasher Sculpture Center. Depending on your destination, maneuvering in that area can be easy or difficult though if the bridge can get us to Woodall Rogers and onto Central Expressway, it's doing its job. Access to and from the bridge and the overall traffic plan remains a work in progress. As for its ultimate influence, we believe it has incredible potential.

The bridge has already achieved landmark status and will probably become the signature of 21st century Dallas perhaps even outstripping the now resurrected Magnolia/Mobil red Pegasus that once dominated the 1950’s Dallas skyline. So, like some of the other great cities of the world we now have a Santiago Calatrava bridge.

Some Canadians we know treat the Dallas bridge with great disdain, “We have one of those already, so why the big fuss?” in a seemingly mine is bigger and/or better than yours diss (I can’t duplicate the sincere sneer). We took great offense/offence, did some research and found that Canada, indeed, has a Calatrava bridge - the Calgary, Alberta Peace Bridge which doesn’t look a thing like the Dallas bridge. It’s a helical steel, glass roofed pedestrian bridge (one of four spans that cross the Bow River) though the only one with access for cyclists (Yippee!). It’s much smaller: 428 feet long to the Dallas 1,870-foot, expansive six lane roadway which is supported by “string-like” cables (functional?) attached to a 400-foot central transverse arch. There is night and there is day and these two bridges have absolutely nothing in common save their architect and that they both cross water. So much for Canadian disdain…
but maybe that’s the joke.

Now let’s get technical about gleeful copy cats. In our research we noted, as many Dallasites have already done, that there is almost a dead ringer for our bridge in Reggio Emillia, Italy where one of three spans of that complex of bridges emulates ours? Apparently, the plans for the Dallas Bridge were already drawn, but the Reggio Emillia bridges were finished in 2007, five years before ours. So, who are the copy cats? We apparently both borrowed from each other though there are some differences in the two. For me, though, the overall visual effect is the same.

As Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News pointed out last February, “Plagiarism — or borrowing or homage — is a time-honored artistic phenomenon.” Scott points out that another Dallas landmark, the Infomart is a knockoff of London and Hyde Park’s 1851 Crystal Palace (long gone because of fire) and continues that, “At least our new Calatrava Bridge is self-plagiarism of a fairly high order.” There is something in the water here

So, about characterizing our bridge as going nowhere? If we do not take offense then the residents of West Dallas surely will. We will admit that, like the Reggio Emilia bridge which has been the hallmark for the redevelopment of the area north of their city, the Dallas bridge should do the same for West Dallas - an area that is now mostly downscale commercial / industrial and low income residential. A recent tour of several West Dallas neighborhoods reinforced our realization of the poverty in the area and reminded us that the new bridge, thankfully, goes in both directions. No doubt some folks may be displaced though hopefully with solid partners and advocacy groups including the City of Dallas and the conscientious application of the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines Plan, their fortune, potential and neighborhoods will be protected and enhanced.

We need remember that West Dallas was isolated because of the Trinity River and her propensity to flood. These floods (last major one in 1990) prompted the building of levees in 1932 and their ongoing controversial refurbishment to a required 100-year flood level of protection. The old mundane and unremarkable bridges while functional, were near the end of their lives and couldn’t inspire or capture the interest of investors dedicated to revitalization of the area.

Just to put the whole Trinity River Corridor Project in perspective we need note that it includes reconstruction and rehabilitation of the existing Sylvan Avenue Bridge and construction of roadways approaching the bridge. The Sylvan Avenue Bridge will be re-built as one bridge that spans the Trinity River and flood plain from levee to levee raising it approximately 50 feet and bringing the roadway up high enough to clear a 100 year flood event as well as to accommodate ongoing levee improvements. I have seen the Sylvan engulfed beneath the Trinity's brown flood waters – ah nostalgia… With no more flooding (Sylvan and Hill), West Dallas will become even more accessible.

Hopefully, West Dallas has been forever cleansed of the lead contamination via the RSR Lead Smelter (and others) which belched its toxic byproducts into the air and soil from 1936 until 1984 when the plant was finally closed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated this area a Superfund site in 1993 and completed cleanup activities in 2005.

And now we have a brand new challenge. Much of the westbound Hill Bridge traffic spilling onto Singleton Boulevard is traveling at breakneck speeds despite five, 30 miles per hour speed-limit signs between Beckley and Sylvan. WFAA-TV caught some of these speeders on tape yesterday (I saw the piece) including a DART bus that appeared to be traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit. They interviewed one local merchant who pointed out that, “There isn't anything to force drivers to slow down.” While he was probably referring to stop lights and crosswalks, others point out that now the area is nothing but a, “run down industrial arm pit.” and this was the kindest of the negative observations we found. TXDOT and the City of Dallas say they are working on the problem. Bottom line: Except for local residents and the aforementioned businesses, there is nothing to go to…for now.

So, how do we move forward? If the residents of West Dallas and Oak Cliff do not provide enough inspiration, the Hill Bridge gives us direction and the momentum to finish the job. We need a real mover and shaker – a dynamic leader - someone of the ilk of old Friend and now departed visionary Pete Hodkinson III who took a literal over-the-hill Southern mountain town built on the timber industry and turned it into vibrant historic, alpine Helen, Georgia – one of the top tourist attractions in Georgia and The South. Like Pete did, involve the citizenry - don’t wall them off. Open them up and involve them in responsibly determining their own destiny (Maslow and self-actualization – YES). Given their proclaimed interest, if either or both want it, give it to Ross Perot and/or Mark Cuban and let them run with it….

“Bob”, a seemingly knowledgeable blogger on this same subject summed it up for me, “The consequences of the Bridge, the consequences of the exploitation of properties by homeowners, investors, landlords and tenants, the consequences of the building or rebuilding of infrastructure by the City, along with all the other market forces at work in the area will determine what West Dallas will become and how it will get there. Like every other major shift in municipal development, some will profit and some will lose. That's life in the big city.”

Let’s get it right…..and quickly. If we fail to, Live Large and Think Big, it will, at least, certainly turn out to be the bridge to where most folks don’t want to go.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN - AN OK FISH STORY

I shared Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (SFITY) with several good Friends last night and that was the real highlight of the evening, aside from the absolutely stunning panoramas of the magnificent Scottish Highlands and the extraordinary Ardverikie House, the Invernesshire castle that overlooks Loch Laggan. Ardverikie House is aka ‘Glenbogle' as featured in the long running BBC drama, Monarch of the Glen. Another surprise was in store for us when Brother John and wife Barbara showed up independent of our quest for entertainment to this theatre many miles from our respective abodes… We were all on the same wave length. The intent of this post is not to dissect this movie and its plot, rather provide my first impressions. No, I haven’t read the book.

So, I had absolutely no expectations about this movie save that the title appeared metaphorical though turned out to be a literal, “right on”. While endearing and entertaining for na├»ve me it surprisingly turned out to be more of a satire than romantic comedy. Apparently in the UK it is considered biting political satire. In the US it might be a standard bill of fare especially when you consider bridges to nowhere and other highly imaginative pork barrel legislation. I am sure we have done something with the caddis fly.

The Sheikh’s seemingly unrealistic obsession for fly fishing in Yemen was actually an admirable ploy to turn his Middle Eastern desert into productive farmland. The British government’s support for the project, however absurd, turns out to be more of a PR attempt to help repair Arab-Anglo relations after their military forces accidentally bombed a mosque in Afghanistan. Needless to say the British Government wants to push this and other negative stories of the Middle East off the front page. This jab at the British Bureaucracy from Home Office to Environment (Fisheries) to Foreign Office needed some help with the romantic comedy partially rescuing the film.

SFITY starred one of my favorite actors Ewan McGregor (probably for no other reason than he is a Scot) who plays Dr. Alfred Jones, an uptight, obsessed, socially inept fisheries expert pressed into reluctant, involuntary servitude charged to literally bring off the impossible task of transplanting a cool weather northern hemisphere life form (Atlantic Salmon) to the heat of the high Yemeni desert. Ewan did not completely excel in this effort either in the movie or as an actor. Fred/Ewan was brooding and melancholy (after all he is Scottish) much of the time though I kept hoping that he would draw his light saber and slay the terrorists trying to derail his efforts. As it was, with one deft fly fishing casting technique he did foil an assassination attempt of the goodly and wise Yemeni Sheikh Muhammed who was conscientiously trying to enlighten and empower his people. For some fly fishing enthusiasts in the theater, this (while a stretch) may have been the highlight of the film. Having said that some of the fly fishing techniques and casts looked and felt awkward.

While it was good to hear a Scottish Burr I noted that Ewan (from Crieff) didn’t really use his own accent, rather spoke with what he proclaims was an Edinburgh Morningside accent [vs. a Glasgow Kelvinside or Glaswegian Patter (west central Scots) accent] – in order to capture what is perceived by some (?) as an “uptight and pretentious” demeanor. Aside from McGregor’s prodigious acting abilities, I suspect that for 99.9% of the non-Scottish viewing public (including this writer), it really didn’t matter. Know that there are so many different Scots accents; Ewan should have just used his own Scots Burr with an element of achievement and erudition maybe from the comfort of a librarian or museum curator’s cocoon. We concede that a Glasgow Patter would not have been appropriate…

I was nonplussed and almost upset at Ewan’s film wife Mary (Rachael Stirling), a dispassionate ("That should do you for a while.") workaholic who is always on the road who let us know from the start that the marriage was not going to work. I immediately took offense at Mary who among her outside activities appears to play the sackbut (primitive trombone) in a medieval music ensemble. The actress fails to even attempt to blow into the instrument or use proper lip placement on the mouthpiece when she is supposedly playing. OK, maybe this is minor, but I think it bad form and at least, bad acting.

Jones’ ultimate love interest is the staggeringly beautiful Emily Blunt (Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot), the Sheikh's Sassenach business consultant and representative who along with the vulgar and ultra-efficient, opportunistic press secretary to the Prime Minister, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), drives most of the movie. Emily Blunt did a good job and was Jones’ counter balance for much of the movie though no Tracy-Hepburn they.

For me the sleeper in SFITY was the visionary Sheikh Muhammed (played so well by the accomplished Egyptian actor Amr Waked) who while trying to unite the Yemeni people was the savior of the film. He may have been the smartest, most intuitive character on the screen and gave us all a lesson in faith and introspection, “For fishermen, the only virtues are patience, tolerance and humility.” He perseveres and it is ultimately his faith, persistence and money coupled with Jones’ science that allows the victory – for the good guys.

Despite these few negatives the movie was good, a pleasant, endearing and entertaining respite that I would pay to see again. Mind you it probably won’t win a Golden Globe or Academy Award but it was very palatable and made you think. It certainly helps if you have a connection to Scotland. In one of the movie’s literal turning points Ewan McGregor as Dr. Jones has his epiphany, turns around and walks “upstream” against the crowd of people just like his salmon did on that Yemeni river.

This is a major life lesson to be learned and embraced. I’m going to read the book. You just gotta believe.

Aye,

Ned Buxton