September 13, 2006

Ann Richards, RIP

Former Texas governor Ann Richards died this evening of esophageal cancer at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 73.

I didn't vote for her in either gubernatorial election, but I did think she had one of the funniest (and most accurate) one-liners in the 1988 Democratic National Convention about George H. W. Bush: "Poor George. He can't help it -- He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." (Source).

Posted by JohnL at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) | | TrackBack
August 13, 2006

The Substance of Style at McDonald's

Today's Business section in the Dallas Morning News tells the story of Ed Bailey, whose ownership of 61 McDonald's locations in the ultra-competitive Dallas dining market has made him one of the most successful restaurant franchisees in the world.

Mr. Bailey's success as an entrepreneur began in the fashion business. Having first worked as a traveling dress salesman, Mr. Bailey soon opened and ran a successful men's designer clothing store in Cincinnati for 10 years. When he got his first franchise from McDonald's in 1984, he moved his family to Plano (a great place to live!) and was successful enough in the difficult Valley View Mall food court location that he obtained a second franchise within a year. Over the next 22 years, he added 59 more stores to his portfolio.

His story could have ended there as a great tribute to the American Dream lived by so many successful small business owners. But as the article points out, there's a special angle to Mr. Bailey's success. In the early 1990s, Mr. Bailey decided to distinguish his franchises by spending money to make them more aesthetically pleasing at the same time as his corporate management was pushing cost controls:

In 1992, Mr. Bailey opened unit No. 7 at Preston Road and Royal Lane just as McDonald's was entering its low-cost era....

It was the most expensive McDonald's built in the United States that year, with a $650,000 tab. A company-owned unit less than three miles away was the cheapest, costing half as much. The regional vice president chastised Mr. Bailey severely for this perceived folly.

"Two and a half years later, I bought that store because McDonald's wasn't making any money," he says, stating fact more than bragging. "I was doing 40 percent more in sales in basically the same trade area."

Mr. Bailey knew then what Virginia Postrel would later identify as the "aesthetic imperative." In Ms. Postrel's words:

Aesthetics--the look and feel of people, places, and things--is increasingly important as a source of value, both economic and cultural....

Aesthetics shows up where function used to be the only thing that mattered, from toilet brushes to business memos to computers and cell phones. And people's expectations keep rising. New tract homes have granite countertops, so hotel rooms have to have granite countertops too. Family restaurants used to be all about price and food, but now they have to worry about their decor. We've gone from Pizza Hut to California Pizza Kitchen. If you're in business, you have to invest in aesthetics simply to keep up with the competition.

Or, as Mr. Bailey's experience showed, to beat the competition.

For more in the same vein, check out Ms. Postrel's The Substance of Style. And be sure to read the entire Morning News article about Mr. Bailey.

Posted by JohnL at 09:57 PM | Comments (0) | | TrackBack
June 05, 2006

Texana - It Ain't Braggin' If It's True

The local paper's Travel section had a couple of nice bits of Texana this past Sunday.

First, a selection of great burger joints easily accessible from the I-35 corridor, recorded here so that I can easily find their addresses in the future (I haven't tried any of these, but invite comments from my readers who have):

(For an alternative take with much more detail on some different burger joints, check out the TexasBurgerGuy).

Second, a celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. I haven't had a chance to visit, but my wife did last year and raved about it. One of the museum's original exhibits was It Ain't Braggin' if It's True, which highlighted six prime Texas traits:

  1. Vision
  2. Pride
  3. Friendship
  4. Perseverance
  5. Swagger
  6. Showmanship

What do you think? Would you add or subtract any?

Posted by JohnL at 03:53 PM | Comments (2) | | TrackBack
May 23, 2006

The Safety Nazis

Well, I've been pretty incommunicative around here recently. Sorry about that, but I've had my hands full with my job, family, and fighting a [so far losing] battle against the safety Nazis in Texas government.

Virginia Postrel has already posted a good wrapup, and I can't describe the situation better than Tim Rogers at D Magazine. Seriously. Go read those before you continue, or it might not make sense.

Back? OK. I would only add that Reason's Hit and Run recently referenced a Baby Blues cartoon that perfectly describes the current trend of protecting our kids out of their childhoods.

As I've written before, I'm a board member for The Texas Pool (whose website I happened to design and author during my copious free time).

For four and a half decades, the pool has operated without any diving board injuries that would have been prevented by the new regulations. When looking at the cost-benefit analysis of the new FINA-derived standards, it seems that our benevolent state government believes even one potential injury sometime in the future would be too many. That of course disregards the many risks that responsible individuals take and allow their kids to take every single day. I put my kids at greater jeopardy every time I drive them to school. Or let them ride their bikes to school. Or even let them walk across the busy street to school.

But what really cranks me is that this regulation was slipped through on the sly. There was no public comment and no public record in the Texas Register of any kind of justification for the retroactive application of the new depth and spacing standards to existing diving facilities. Also, the standards come from a set of rules governing competitive diving. It's HARD to hit the bottom of a 10-foot pool unless you dive with a really good form, and kids doing cannonballs is hardly good form (I doubt most of them ever get below 5 or 6 feet).

So how can you begin to fight the professional government inflicted on us by the late 19th-century progressives? Our approach is really two phases (possibly three): (1) ask the State Department of Health to reconsider their decision not to include a grandfather clause for existing facilities, (2) ask our state legislators to overrule the administrative agency, and apply a grandfather clause, and (3) initiate appropriate litigation, contingent on finding an interested pro bono firm.

This would be a great opportunity to try out an "Army of Davids" approach. I can't really take the time to research the epidemiology of diving board/pool depth injuries and in any case don't have ready access to a university library with medical or sports injury journals. But from everything I've read to date, there's no real evidence of significant danger, even from a 3-meter diving board, when the diving well is at least 10 feet deep (as is ours). Most injuries occur in less than 5 feet of water.

Would any of my intrepid readers like to take on a pro bono research project? I already have some leads (authors, journal and article titles). I'm totally serious. If so, contact me at

I will be blogging more, on this and other things.

Posted by JohnL at 09:06 PM | Comments (1) | | TrackBack
May 16, 2006

Photoblog - An Afternoon at the Pool

On Sunday, I gave my wife some quiet time for Mother's Day by taking the kids down to our neighborhood pool. It's a nonprofit, open-membership community pool, and I've been on its Board of Directors for 2 years now (we were members for several years before that). It happens to be called The Texas Pool on the Creek. Can you guess why? (Click for larger).


Board membership entails lots of maintenance work, especially as the opening of swim season approaches (we open May 27). One of the benefits of board membership is free access to the pool throughout the year. We drained the pool this week for some maintenance work, and began refilling it on Sunday. The kids have a great time running and sliding down the deep end slope into the slowly rising waters:


And tormenting each other (humorously):


It was a very good day.



(Do the pictures look too blue? I haven't mastered Photoshop Elements yet).

If you live in the Dallas/Plano area, we still have plenty of memberships available, and you can register online. Check it out.

Posted by JohnL at 09:13 PM | Comments (4) | | TrackBack
November 08, 2005

Vote Against Proposition 2

This is for my Texas readers. I'm post-dating it to stay at the top of my blog until after Tuesday's elections. Texans are heading to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, to vote on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Proposition 2 would amend the Texas Constitution with the following text (from HJR 6):

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
SECTION 2. This state recognizes that through the designation of guardians, the appointment of agents, and the use of private contracts, persons may adequately and properly appoint guardians and arrange rights relating to hospital visitation, property, and the entitlement to proceeds of life insurance policies without the existence of any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
SECTION 3. This proposed constitutional amendment shall be submitted to the voters at an election to be held November 8, 2005. The ballot shall be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition: "The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Before we get into the actual black-letter meaning of the amendment, let's look at the intent. This is designed to keep any sort of gay marriage or similar legal arrangement such as civil unions, from being accorded any legal status in Texas.

While I hope that gays may someday legally marry, adopt and otherwise enjoy the equal protection of the laws and the same privileges and immunities as heterosexual couples, there are two very good reasons for all Texans -- including those opposed to gay marriage -- to vote AGAINST this amendment:

First, Texas already forbids same-sex marriages by statute.

Second, the plain text of the amendment lends itself to a construction outlawing all marriage. Read clause (a) closely. It defines marriage as only a "union" between a man and a woman. What kind of union? Physical? Are straight couples only married when in fact they are engaged in sexual congress? OK, maybe that's a silly argument. But look at clause (b). Neither Texas nor any political subdivision of Texas may "create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

What does "identical" mean? Exactly the same as? Isn't the only thing identical to marriage, marriage itself?

Could Texans really be about to abolish the legal institution of marriage altogether? I know some libertarians -- not me -- who would be delighted at that prospect.

Certainly section 2 of the House joint resolution could be used by a creative lawyer to argue that the Legislature knew that it was incumbent on couples (of whatever kind) to get their affairs in order as to guardianship, survivorship, etc., as they were about to obliterate all the legal privileges appurtenant to marriage.

I know the right wingers will say this isn't what they meant. But they should have been more careful drafting the amendment's text.

One very real potential casualty of this amendment could be common-law marriages. Like most Western states, Texas has a fairly short statute of limitations for the formation of a common-law marriage. But since common-law marriages are not formalized by a license, I would read this amendment to forbid any family or probate courts from recognizing the entitlement of the common law spouse to their share of the community property.

This is just a needless, largely symbolic, and ugly mess. One driven by bigotry and closed-mindedness. I hope (without much optimism) that my fellow citizens will keep this abomination from becoming part of the Texas constitution.

If you are registered to vote, PLEASE VOTE. And vote AGAINST Proposition 2.

Update: Be sure to check out the discussion in my comments. Here's my explanation of the legal futility of the proposed amendment to prevent "activist judges" from imposing gay marriage:

Third, this is all a red herring, because the status quo under both Texas and federal law is that gay marriage is and remains illegal and need not be given full faith and credit, even if permitted in other states. This is the case NOW. Prop. 2 will do NOTHING to change this, and in fact may undermine long-customary common law marriages (to the detriment of the abandoned common--law-wife, typically). You may call that FUD, but have you read the plain text of the amendment? It is sloppy and unforgivably vague. Which means everything will end up in court, which is what the amendment is supposed to prevent.

Fourth, speaking of court... the same federal constitutional challenge that would lead to a change in the status quo (see 3) would also lead to an invalidation of the proposed marriage amendment. The supremacy clause of the US Constitution would bind Texas, if activists manage to win an extension of marriage rights as a basic liberty under the 9th, 10th, and 14th amendments. Think of all the dead-letter miscegenation laws that were on the books in the South after Loving v. Virginia.

I think Virginia Postrel sums it up much more elegantly:

Since Texas already defines marriage by statute as the union of one man and one woman, Prop 2 is nothing more than a gratuitous attempt to build Gov. Rick Perry's social-conservative voting base by attacking gays. Supporters say an amendment is necessary to control "activist judges." But the only judges the amendment would bind are Texas state judges. Texas state judges, including the state's Supreme Court, are elected by Texas voters. Texas state judges are quite conservative. They are, to put it mildly, highly unlikely to find a right to same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

(Voting guide for all nine amendments beyond the jump):

Prop. 1 - AGAINST (don't give the state the power to create another agency)
Prop. 2 - AGAINST (see above)
Prop. 3 - AGAINST (make it harder for the state to spend money)
Prop. 4 - FOR (make it easier to keep bail-jumpers in jail when they're caught again)
Prop. 5 - FOR (allow the legislature to grant more freedom for commercial lenders to charge interest exmpt from usury limits)
Prop. 6 - FOR (technical change to expand State Judicial Commission by 2 members)
Prop. 7 - FOR (gives certain borrowers more freedom)
Prop. 8 - FOR (state relinquishing title to certain public lands)
Prop. 9 - FOR (technical amendment to stagger 6 year terms of certain board members)

Posted by JohnL at 10:00 PM | Comments (18) | | TrackBack
September 20, 2005

Texas Kraut Recipes

A significant number of the "Anglos" that settled in Texas in the early 19th century were, in fact, Teutons and Slavs. And until the current generation, one could readily encounter German dialects being spoken in small towns in the Texas hill country. (In my sophomore year of college, my German class took a field trip to Fredericksburg, where we struggled to understand the dialect of a 70-something museum guide whose German was anything but Hochdeutsch).

In honor of Oktoberfest (excellent Oktoberfest picture here, btw), here's a site with numerous recipes incorporating sauerkraut, including a couple that might work here in Texas: Surprise Chili and Salsa Ole.

Posted by JohnL at 11:23 PM | Comments (3) | | TrackBack
January 27, 2005

Irony Alert

Recently, a Texas lawmaker introduced a bill that would require Texas school districts to include the body mass index of pupils as part of their regular report cards.

I'm sorry, but parents should know if their kids are fat (or "husky") without the school districts telling them so. And, frankly, Texas schools have a lot more to worry about than the BMI of their students.

As to the irony (pointed out by Texan Munuvian Ilyka): check out the apparent BMI issues of the legislator (legislatrix?) who introduced the bill.

(This lady has also introduced a bill requiring development of lactation education programs for elementary and secondary schools' science curricula. Hello? Why do those kids need to learn about lactation in elementary school?).

Posted by JohnL at 10:28 PM | Comments (3) |
January 01, 2005

Hook 'Em, Horns!

Now THAT was a football game!

Awesome Rose Bowl. Texas beats Michigan, 38-37 on a last-second field goal.

I wonder how many of the other BCS games will come close to being as entertaining as this one was.

Posted by JohnL at 07:51 PM | Comments (8) |
July 25, 2004

Armstrong Rides Into History

Texan Lance Armstrong has won a record sixth Tour de France.

No point in my linking many stories, since you can Google "Lance Armstrong" as easily as I. Here's a decent one to get you started.

In a game of six degrees of Lance Armstrong, I would come in at only one degree of separation, as I bought my current bike from Jim Hoyt at the Richardson Bike Mart just a couple of miles from here. Jim sold Lance his first bike, and got Lance into racing back in 1987.

A big Texas yee-haw goes out to Lance!

Posted by JohnL at 11:53 PM | Comments (5) |
April 06, 2004

Texas Taste

Robert the Llama Butcher criticizes a chili recipe for its lack of beer. I would agree, except for his recommendation of Lone Star beer.

As far as I'm concerned, the "real" national beer of Texas is Shiner Bock, brewed in the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, Texas (pop. 2,100).

Another good thing to include in a real Texas chili is novelty meat -- venison, rattlesnake, bison, you name it. Maybe even llama?

Yip yip indeed.

Posted by JohnL at 10:36 PM | Comments (7) |
March 02, 2004

Happy Birthday, Texas!

It's not my policy to blog from work, which is why you usually see late-night updates around here. But since today is an important date to commemorate, I wanted to get up an early-morning entry, especially for any out-of-state (or should that be "out-of-Republic?") readers.

On this date in 1836, several brave men assembled at Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed their names to the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Just a few short days later, many more brave men gave their lives at the Alamo, standing their ground for their cause despite almost-certain death. Following a massacre of Texans at Goliad on March 27, 1836, a small army led by Sam Houston caught Santa Ana on April 21 by surprise at the battle of San Jacinto. Crying "Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad," the "Texians" routed the Mexicans and won their independence.

Texas remained an independent republic for the next 9 years, until it was admitted to the United States on December 29, 1845. I'm flying my Texas flag this week, in place of the usual Stars and Stripes out front. Happy Birthday, Texas.

Posted by JohnL at 08:27 AM | Comments (0) |