Better Block project needs volunteers

A few months back, I reported on a new initiative in Denton to help boost neighborhood revitalization.

The city has selected the Sherman Drive neighborhood, around the old Piggly Wiggly store, for its first living charrette.

On his blog, Council member Kevin Roden called it a “great area with tons of eager neighbors nearby ready to see that area pop with creative neighborhood services, better streetscape, and improved biking and walking accessibility.”

Residents have planned the charrette for Saturday morning, June 28, and will be building the pieces they need for it on Thursday and Friday.

It looks like a lot of fun: pallet furniture, a hay bale “splash park,” pop-up shops and a street repair workshop.

Volunteers need to sign up this week, so that organizers can better plan for the event. Go here to sign up.

If you want to learn more about Better Block in general, visit betterblock.org.

Drowning victim’s body recovered

From staff writer Bj Lewis:

 
The body of 38-year-old Michael Quach was recovered early Wednesday morning.

Capt. Cliff Swofford, a state game warden, said the body was found at 6:20 a.m. west of the marina in Hidden Cove Park.

He had been missing since Sunday.

“The body rose last night and floated to the inner cove,” he said.

Swofford said the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has taken possession of the body and everybody is clear of the lake now.

Quach, of Melissa, jumped out of a boat to help his nephew, who was panicking in the water. Quach wasn’t wearing a life jacket and never made it back to the boat.

Crews from The Colony and Lewisville fire departments assisted state personnel in the search.

Quach’s wife, Brianna Mann, and several other members of the family had been at Hidden Cove Park since he went missing. Quach had been on a Father’s Day boat outing with his wife, two children and other family members when he went missing.

EagleRidge re-working well at Acme Brick

We received this press release from the city at about 4:45 p.m. today (it follows several tweets from @DentonPD last night):

City staff has been notified that EagleRidge Operating, LLC will re-work the Acme Brick D 3H well. The work is being done to unplug a potentially clogged pipeline. Workover rig equipment and an enclosed flare unit will be set up to complete the short-term operation. EagleRidge estimates the work will take two to three days.

The Acme Brick D 3H well is included in the Standstill Agreement negotiated between the Denton City Council and EagleRidge.

Questions or complaints regarding gas wells may be directed to the 24-hour Gas Well Hotline at (940) 349-8GAS (8427).

Taking a stab at political media criticism through the lens of a fake Twitter account

On my desktop next to a well-worn copy of Webster’s, an English-Spanish dictionary and the AP Stylebook, I keep two books from journalism school. One is my first textbook on news reporting and writing that’s sweetly out of date (when you look at the photos), yet timeless in the fundamentals of our discipline. The other is Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, to remind me that the “medium is the message,” “in the name of progress our official culture is forcing the new media to do the work of the old,” and other stuff like that.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, which I know some of you who are reading this now may not follow. (I always keep that in mind, as well as the fact that scores of our newspaper readers and many of our website readers may never see this blog post either. Rest assured, non-Twitter-users, you don’t have to get an account to gain an understanding of what you can learn from this interesting and compact forum, you can simply read the messages on the “Twitter fall” in the middle of our website. But I digress.)

In early April, I stumbled on a fake Twitter account @johnryandenton (we’ll see how long this link lasts). The “art” is funny, and the satirical tweets made me laugh out loud more than once. Having been on Twitter for a while now, I knew they weren’t likely coming from Ryan or one of his supporters.

Ryan called today and we chatted about it. He confessed he wasn’t up on Twitter, and then proceeded to share what he’d figured out (who’s following, including who followed first, and who’s interacted with the anonymous writer), which I thought was plenty insightful for someone who had just waded in … and I think there’s a good reason for that which I’ll get into in a second.

I brought up the existence of this fake Twitter account to his opponent, Glen Farris, last night before the Denton Neighborhood Alliance forum and he did a good job keeping his poker face.

Ryan hasn’t lost his sense of humor over it, but he also told me he intended to contact Twitter and ask them to remove the account. The fake account may be harmless fun, or it may be an example of using the new media (Twitter) to do some old work (a whispering campaign).

Social media is supposed to be democratizing in its ability to give access to powerful communication tools that used to belong only to the elite. In j-school, we were reminded frequently and loudly and soul-searchingly about the responsibilities that come with access to barrels of ink. (Occasionally, I share cautionary Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Lulu, et al, tales to my now-grown children to encourage them to be mindful of their decisions in those spheres, kind of like how I made them read the police blotter occasionally when they were teens. But I digress again.)

As McLuhan wrote, “the only sure disaster would be a society not perceiving a technology’s effects on their world, especially the chasms and tensions between generations.”

Some food for thought as this spring political season races to the finish line.

Push polling the frack ban petition and affinity for Ted Cruz

A number of Denton residents have reported on social media, the Frack Free Denton blog and to Sharon Wilson (who blogged about it here) that they are getting phone calls from a blocked California number about the initiative petition.

(Just now hearing that longtime residents have organized a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city? Get up to speed here.)

I visited with Ed Soph yesterday and he said he got such a call early last week. He said the questions were odd. “If you knew the frack ban would raise property taxes …,” “If you knew it would lower property values …,” “If you knew it was sponsored by UNT students who didn’t even live in Denton …”

The pollster, who would not identify who they were working for, also asked Soph if he liked Ted Cruz and what he thought of the new University of North Texas president.

Soph said he couldn’t make sense of the questions, particularly the one about Senator Cruz, but could tell they weren’t meant to elicit his opinion.

I’ve started poking around campaign finance reports at the state and federal level, since I believe that state law would require such reporting such expenses under the umbrella of a specific-purpose committee.

Meanwhile, I think it’s important for Denton residents and voters to become familiar with push polling techniques, which have nothing to do with polling at all.

Russell D. Renka, professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University, wrote a paper in 2010 about the different kinds of polling techniques. In it, he shows how push polls are simply a dirty campaign practice.

These dirty campaign practices masquerade as legitimate polls.  They are not inquiries into what respondents truly think.  Traugott and Lavrakas (2000, 165) define them as “a method of pseudo polling in which political propaganda is disseminated to naive respondents who have been tricked into believing they have been sampled for a poll that is sincerely interested in their opinions.  Instead, the push poll’s real purpose is to expose respondents to information … in order to influence how they will vote in the election.”  Asher (2001, 19) concurs:  “push polls are an election campaign tactic disguised as legitimate polling.”  Their contemporary expression through automated telephone calls led Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster to call them “roboscam,” meaning an automated voice asks respondents to indicate a candidate preference, followed by a scathing denunciation of the intended target (Blumenthal 2006a, Mystery Pollster – RoboScam: Not Your Father’s Push Poll, 21 February 2006).  After a couple of attack-statements, it’s on to another number, hitting as many as possible for sake of maximizing the damage to the intended political target.  That, of course, is not real polling at all, which explains why Blumenthal shuns the very term “push poll” for these.

     Legitimate polling organizations universally condemn push polls.  The National Council on Public Polls has shunned them since they masquerade as legitimate queries yet are intended to sway rather than discover the opinion of respondents (NCPP 1995, A Press Warning from the National Council on Public Polls).  So has the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which recommends that the media never publish them or portray them as polls (AAPOR 2007, AAPOR Statement on Push Polls).  Push polls are propaganda similar to negative advertising.  They are conducted by professional political campaign organizations in a manner that detaches them from the intended beneficiary of actions taken against a rival (see Saletan 2000, Push Me, Poll You in Slate Magazine).  Some political interest groups also use them, often in a hot-language campaign to raise money and membership by using scare tactics.  No matter the source, they treat their subjects with contempt. — from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Public Opinion Polls”

I’ll keep working on it and keep you posted. Keep me posted, too. I’d like to hear from people who get the calls about their experience.

Candidate forum broadcast schedule

The League of Women Voters Candidates Forum, held April 10 at City Hall with Sue Smith moderating, was taped for rebroadcast. DCTV has announced the broadcast schedule for that forum on Verizon Ch. 39 and Charter Ch. 191 as follows:

Tuesday, 9 p.m., April 22, 29, May 6
Wednesday, 9 a.m., April 16, 23, 30, May 7
Saturday, 2 p.m., April 19, 26, May 3, 10

The Denton Neighborhood Association forum, to be held Thursday, April 24, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall (215 E. McKinney St.), will also be taped for rebroadcast. It will run at both 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays at 4 p.m. until the May 10 election.

DCTV can also be viewed on Ch. 47-4 through your television’s digital tuner.

Campaign Finance Reports, January-March 2014

District 2

Glenn Farris:
20140411081554

John Ryan:
20140411081740

Place 5

Dalton Gregory:
20140411081617 (1)

Hatice Salih:
20140411081801

Place 6

Greg Johnson:
20140411081718

Mayor

Jean Schaake:
20140411081526

Chris Watts:

Donna Woodfork:
20140411143203 (1)

More details for city’s proposed bond election in November

I put together last Sunday’s piece on the bond election proposed for November to offer a window into the kinds of things residents are asking for, since they don’t always align with the list that the staff puts together.

As such, the story is meant to be a 30,000-foot view. But, at times, such views lack precision. And I got two emails from the city this week asking for more precision and I’m happy to pass this information along.

In December, Lindsey Baker tells me, the bond committee received a presentation which showed how much could be funded before the city would have to increase taxes:

Staff estimated in December 2013, in addition to planned capital spending for facilities maintenance, vehicle replacements and street reconstruction, an additional $31.8 million in capital projects could be funded without raising the debt service tax rate.  Staff estimates that a one-cent tax increase would facilitate a $50.8 million package, and a two-cent tax increase would be necessary for a $63.8 million package.

And city engineer Frank Payne offered this for parents who are requesting sidewalk routes along McKinney Street to Ryan High School and along Hickory Creek Road to McNair Elementary:

1.     You discussed the sidewalks on McKinney and the fact that the TxDOT project will provide them.  That’s true.  However, you stated that “if the city added sidewalks now, they could be lost in a few years when reconstruction begins.”  Also true.  What I specifically conveyed was that there was no way to put in sidewalks or trails of any sort in the space available without also improving drainage and grades, changes which would be very expensive, and that the walks would be subject to replacement when the roadway project begins.  It isn’t just about sacrificial sidewalks, which is reason enough in my opinion for the City to not put them in on a TxDOT roadway, but it is about doing advance work on the roadway (if it is even possible to do so) at great expense to possibly put in a pedestrian way that would be removed within a couple of years after its installation.

2.     You mentioned sidewalks along Hickory Creek Road to McNair Elementary and that they “are on staff’s list of recommendations with the bond committee, Payne said.”  What I said was that the widening and improvements to Hickory Creek Road was one of the proposed bond projects and that, if it is selected and approved by the voters, it will provide the needed sidewalks.  Specific sidewalks are not on a recommendations list to the subcommittee.  The subcommittee is being asked to propose Miscellaneous Sidewalks as they were approved in the last bond initiative so that staff can work on various projects which may or may not be proposed by the subcommittee.

 

DFW air quality as a study topic for students

Friday afternoon I sat in on poster presentations by three graduate students at the University of North Texas organized by the engineering school — good practice for building their science bona fides and good practice for me in listening to scientists.

I was a little lost for the presentation on improving truck radiators with microchannels and frequently lost on the presentation about shape memory alloys, although we got to watch this very cool YouTube video of a bent spring coiling back into its original shape when heated:

I was able, however, to follow the third presentation on a study of DFW air quality, in part, because I’ve been listening to a number of these technical discussions for the past several years.

Graduate student Mahdi Ahmadi, working with his advisor, Dr. Kuruvilla John, downloaded the ozone air monitoring data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality back to 1997, a total of more than 6.5 million data points, he said, and has been studying it for the past four months. (He is in the second draft of a paper that will be submitted for publication, so his talk was the beginning of a discussion that surely will include more feedback from his professors — I saw some of that Friday — and from the editors/reviewers of the journal that accepts the paper for publication.)

Ahmadi wanted to explore a basic question underlying a graphic frequently distributed by the TCEQ that shows gas wells going up in DFW as ozone goes down, which suggests in a not-very-scientific-at-all way, that the increasing number of gas wells is having no effect on the ozone.

Ahmadi adjusted for meteorological conditions to determine how much ozone DFW people are making and where. Such adjustments have been explored by others to understand better the parts of ozone-making we can control, because we can’t control the weather. He used an advanced statistical method on the data, called the Kolmogorov-Zurbenko filter, to separate the effects of atmospheric parameters from human activities.
According to the results, the air monitoring sites surrounded by oil and gas production activities, generally on the west side of DFW, show worse long-term trends in ozone reduction than those located farther from wells on the east side of DFW.
His spatial analysis of the data showed that ozone distribution has been disproportionally changed and appears linked to production activities, perhaps an explanation why residents on the western side of DFW are seeing more locally produced ozone, particularly since 2008.
In other words, Denton residents have long suffered the drift of polluted air from the south, but as our neighbors to the south drive cleaner cars and get clean ups from the cement plants and other big polluters, regulators should probably look again at the 5,000 gas wells and their associated equipment in Denton County to help clean up local air quality.
Most interesting to me is that Ahmadi also looked at ozone levels produced in the “off season” and noticed that those numbers, too, are climbing up. DFW ozone season is generally considered April-October, but if the EPA again lowers the standard to 65 ppb, that could bring more months, February-November, into our “ozone season,” John said.
Ahmadi and John said this study, for the first time, is demonstrating the long-term negative effects of oil and gas production activities activities on local and regional ozone pollution. We’ll be watching for the final peer review and publication of their paper and expect that others charged with cleaning up North Texas air will do the same.

Nightly closures at McCormick St

Crews will close the southbound lane of I35E at 9 p.m. tonight and again tomorrow (Wednesday) at McCormick St. to make repairs to the guardrail. They will re-open the lanes at 6 a.m. for morning traffic.