A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Arts & Entertainment

The New Kid on the Blockchain

| 10 hours ago

Bart McGeehon is putting the finishing touches on a vintage 1930s radio outfitted with an LCD screen and refitted speakers in his light-filled Bishop Arts District loft. He’s the production manager of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and he does freelance work as a set and lighting designer. But at the moment, he’s completing his transformation of the retro specimen into the sole physical embodiment of an art object whose dynamic reality will exist entirely in the etheric, intangible world of blockchain technology.

This is the latest endeavor from Verdigris Ensemble, a choral group led by founder and artistic director Sam Brukhman. Verdigris is proposing to catapult itselfand choral music in generalinto the nascent realm of programmable music that can be auctioned, resold in cryptocurrency, and modified by its user-owners. It will not just be cutting edge; it will be the first of its kind, propelling Dallas onto the international crypto art scene.

Last fall, the 28-year-old Brukhman connected with Async Art, the San Francisco-based company that recently had a coup with the sale of Block 21, one of a 40-piece series created on the company’s platform by Ben Gentilli, the London-based artist known as Robert Alice. The canvas disc, hand-painted with a portion of the digits that made up Bitcoin’s launch code (the full series contains all 12.3 million digits), sold last October for more than $131,000. It was the first artwork associated with a nonfungible token (NFT), a sort of digital key stored in the blockchain for authenticity, to be auctioned by Christie’s. In March, the digital artist known as Beeple sold a wholly digital art piece for $69 million. And earlier this spring, Alice’s Block 21, along with Beeple’s latest work and other heavyweights of blockchain art, was part of the first crypto art exhibit, held at Beijing’s UCCA Lab, a division of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

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New EarBurner: Police Chief Eddie Garcia On Violent Crime, Budgets, Marijuana, and More

| 13 hours ago

We met with Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia a day after he told the City Council how he planned to curb violent crime. Violent crime, he told council, is largely concentrated in tiny pockets in a few neighborhoods across the city. In Dallas, we’ve known that it has generally—although not always—originated between two or more individuals who are familiar with one another.

And we know that most of the communities that are dealing with violent crime do not have the same sort of opportunities as communities where it is not as prevalent. Transportation is poor, life expectancy is lower, jobs are difficult to come by, and healthy food isn’t always available. Many of those failures are the fault of government, which for too long neglected—and actively damaged, be that through zoning or highways or redlining or other policy decisions—some communities while favoring others.

The city’s violent crime rate increased 14 percent from 2018 to 2019 and another 5 percent from 2019 to 2020. Into this walks Garcia, who, upon his hiring three months ago, was charged with fixing it. I found his three-hour briefing to council interesting, in part because he waded right into the very controversial phrases that are “hot-spot policing” and “broken windows theory.”

Those have both led to over-policing and prejudicial practices like stop and frisk. In some cities, they’ve led to a disproportionate targeting of people of color who live in communities with high poverty rates and a violent crime problem. Garcia says his plan isn’t that; he said it’s not a “dragnet” operation and it won’t lead to stop and frisk. He says the plan is specific and narrowly tailored. It wants to fix some simple infrastructure problems that can improve neighborhoods:

“In one of those areas (I was patrolling) I counted 12 streetlights that were out in a city block. I don’t know what was worse: the fact that there was 12 streetlights that were out or the fact that people thought it was OK to live that way, because it’s not.”

As for the “hot spots,” the department identified grids—these are about the length of one football field and the width of about two—where most violent crime is occurring. This is what the operation will look like:

“We’ve broken down not only the areas but the times that we need to be there. The point is to be there and be highly visible. As visible as possible. It’s not about being there in those peak hours and stopping everything that moves, that’s that historic perspective of hot-spot policing and how it destroys community relationships with the police department. This isn’t that.”

Meanwhile, the city itself will need to figure out investments that can lift these neighborhoods up. Considering public safety is the largest line item on the city budget, balancing those interests is a difficult proposition for the chief:

“On one hand, yes, for long-term, safer Dallas and to get our communities on stable ground, we need to reduce poverty. We need to increase employment. We need to reduce food disparities and things of that nature. But at the same time you also have a report that’s saying you also need police officers to be in these areas to drive crime down. …I don’t want to call them competing interests – you have these two very important prongs that are needed for a safer Dallas, right? I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but especially when I go out into the community, I know these things are long-term successes, but our community is asking for officers now. Immediately.”

Zac Crain and I spoke with Garcia about his violent crime plan, how he reconciles the need for social services and the police department’s budget, what led to his decision to stop arresting for personal amounts of marijuana, and his thoughts on the legislation that would allow for the open carrying of handguns without training or licensing.

Listen after the jump.

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Leading Off

Leading Off (5/13/21)

| 16 hours ago

High-Rises Coming to Oak Lawn. A pair of apartment towers will go up at Cedar Springs and Throckmorton with the unanimous approval of the Dallas City Council. They’ll provide some contrast with the low-slung businesses and homes already in the neighborhood, the historic center of the city’s LGBTQ community, but developer Mike Ablon plans to leave existing buildings alone and has said all the right things about supporting the area’s cultural identity and vibrancy.

COVID. Dallas County on Wednesday reported 10 deaths* due to COVID-19 and 239 new cases. Tell your friends to get vaccinated.

More Dallas Businesses Making (Masked) Return To Offices. Only about 6% of 156 companies surveyed by the Dallas Regional Chamber are requiring workers to be vaccinated, although more than 80% said they’re having masks worn around the office. About 35% of the companies surveyed said their workplaces are fully open right now, with about 19% opening in May or June and another 29% shooting to get back at it in-person between July and September. I’m heading in soon myself. Not sure where I’m supposed to sit anymore.

Mavericks Beat Pelicans 125-107. Odds are looking good that Dallas will avoid the play-in tournament for the playoffs.

Cowboys 2021 Schedule Released. Dallas’ 18-week(!) season starts Sept. 9 visiting the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nine road games, four NFC East games in the last five weeks of the season, and absolutely no predictions from me, even though we all know this is the year, baby, Super Bowl or bust, let’s go, how about them Cowboys.

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Politics & Government

Dallas Polling Sites Were Down for Hours on Election Day

| 1 day ago

Snafus downed at least 10 9 polling locations for as many as four hours during Dallas City Council elections on May 1, showing that there were more Election Day problems than had been previously reported. [Update: 9 polling locations were temporarily closed, with other issues reported at two others; the original headline of this story has been changed to reflect that.] This emerged Wednesday as City Council members grilled Michael Scarpello, the county’s election administrator. They further decided in a 11-3 vote (one council member was absent) to tell off the Dallas County Elections Department by refusing to pay it to run the upcoming runoffs scheduled for June 5.

“We’ll never know, I suspect, how many people literally did not get to vote in this election that wanted to,” said Mayor Eric Johnson, who appeared to be the most pissed of several very displeased council membersand who, despite not appearing on the ballot, already had reason to be unhappy about the May 1 election. “That wouldn’t be OK in a presidential election or gubernatorial election where millions of people are going to get to vote.” In a low-turnout election like this one, where races could be decided by a few dozen votes, “we should be outraged,” Johnson said. The mayor’s preferred candidate in District 7, Donald Parish Jr., missed the runoff by just 25 votes.

Several of his colleagues agreed, including council members Carolyn King Arnold, in South Oak Cliff, and Cara Mendelsohn, in Far North Dallas, both of whom likened the issues on Election Day to voter suppression. Mendelsohn and other council members also pressed Scarpello on what they described as inefficiency and waste in how the elections were run.

Speaking to council members and in a phone interview afterward, Scarpello acknowledged systematic issues in the elections department that created problems on Election Day. But overall, the “ability to vote” in this election far exceeded the ability to vote in municipal elections in 2019, he says. There were more polling locations, which were open longeraccounting for 415 more hours during early voting and 1,100 more hours on Election Day, or an overall 19 percent increase from two years ago, Scarpello said. This was the first local election in which Dallas County voters were allowed to vote at any polling location in the county, both during early voting and on Election Day. And turnout this year was consistent (which is to say, pretty low) with past municipal elections.

“There were no obvious problems as far as having a net effect on the election,” he told me.

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Local News

The Oak Cliff Streetcar Went Off the Rails

| 1 day ago

I am, admittedly, late to this. But I wanted to use the photo that you see above these words. On Tuesday at about 2:15 p.m., the streetcar that ferries riders from North Oak Cliff to downtown’s Union Station and back suffered a derailment. There were no injuries. Riders were taken to their ultimate destination in a shuttle bus while the streetcar was re-railed and returned to the maintenance facility for repairs, according to DART spokesman Gordon Shattles. No businesses or residences were affected.

Derailments have happened, but they’re “very rare,” he said. The route was operational by Wednesday morning, but only one streetcar was making the rounds. DART is investigating what happened.

In the meantime, take in the rarity with the photo above, courtesy our Taylor Crumpton.

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Politics & Government

State Rep. Rafael Anchía Went Viral With a History Lesson About Voting Rights

| 1 day ago

It’s rare that a history lesson goes viral. But state Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas) managed just that in a clip recorded last week on the floor of the Texas Legislature, where lawmakers were debating a bill that would introduce new voting restrictions to the state.

Anchía, who’s already done some high-quality grilling this legislative session, was questioning Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), the author of the bill, about its inclusion of the phrase “purity of the ballot box,” language that had previously been used after the Civil War and again during the Jim Crow era to discriminate against Black voters.

“Are you aware that references to purity of the ballot box used throughout this country’s history has been a justification for states to disenfranchise groups they deem unfit to vote or somehow lacking?” Anchía asked.

He was not, Cain said, somewhat sheepishly. It was uncomfortable. The phrase was removed from the bill.

“This is not just old-timey history,” Anchía said in a phone interview this week. “It’s contemporary history as well. Last decade alone there were multiple findings of intentional [voter] discrimination against the legislature from three federal courts.” (This is true, although higher courts have upheld Texas’ controversial political maps and voter ID laws.) “What I wanted to emphasize in my questioning of the bill author was that there has been a continuous effort to try to roll back voting rights at different points in Texas history, and we’re experiencing one of those especially provocative points in time.”

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Sports & Leisure

Let’s Bring the (Soon to Be Former) Oakland A’s to Downtown Dallas

| 2 days ago

Yesterday, the Oakland A’s announced that they will start exploring relocating to a new city, with the blessing of Major League Baseball. Today, coincidentally (or maybe not???), I am wearing a baseball cap. It is a Mavericks cap, but still. In any event, that means I am in the right headspace [broad wink to camera] to make this argument:

Dallas should make an offer to bring the A’s to a new stadium in downtown Dallas.

I can’t find the issue, and I don’t think it ran online, but a few years ago we pitched the idea of Dallas bringing a National League team to town. Specifically, to the site of the former Reunion Arena, still unoccupied at this time. It is an even better spot for a stadium now, accessible by train and trolley and truck (or car—just wanted to hit the alliteration), and certainly walkable. In terms of pedestrians, it’s not quite as great as it would have been when the city kicked the tires on trying to lure the Rangers to the Farmers Market in the early 1990s. But I can tell you, as someone well familiar with walking around this city, it’s eminently doable, if not 100-percent convenient. You’d get used to it.

But wait, Zac, you’re yelling to a screen, not thinking that only Amazon and the feds are listening. The Rangers are already here. OK, but are they really? Here? They’re in Arlington, and while it is known by some as “the Paris of I-30,” it is not Dallas. And Arlington has always had a chip on its shoulder about people thinking the Rangers (and Cowboys) belonged to Dallas. So, OK, fine, they can have the Rangers. (We will still keep our hold on the Cowboys, because we can. It’s pretty effortless.)

I mean, what have the Rangers ever given us, but heartbreak? What is your best memory? Almost winning a couple of World Series a decade ago? Rougie Odor punching the soul out of that guy? Nothing we can’t leave behind. Imagine knocking off for the day—in this example you work downtown, obviously—and walking over to the ballpark for a few innings and a couple of beers? Pretty great.

I don’t need payment. Just a standing ovation during the seventh inning of every game by the Dallas A’s in perpetuity.

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Local News

Leading Off (5/12/21)

| 2 days ago

National Weather Service Issues Trinity River Flood Warning. As heavy thunderstorms continue to move through the region, the Trinity River is expected to rise about 1.3 feet above flood stage before receding this evening. Avoid flooded roads and river banks. The weather is expected to clear up by Thursday and Friday.

Moratorium Did Not Halt Dallas Evictions. Despite the federal moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, a University of Texas at Dallas study found that there were about half as many evictions filed with Dallas County in 2020 as there were in 2019. The study also found that some renters who should have been protected by the federal moratorium were evicted anyway. The steepest decline in evictions took place when courts were physically closed, either during the initial lockdown or during last February’s winter storm.

A Look Inside the FBI’s DFW Digital Evidence Lab. Here’s the bit that jumped out at me in this story about how the local FBI office tracts the digital fingerprints of a wide variety of crimes: thanks to their digital lab, the Dallas FBI office arrested more people connected to the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection than any other field office.

Dallas County Reports 8 COVID Deaths. Two of the victims were Dallas men in their 20s and 30s.

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Hypothetical: Easier to Score a Basket Playing With Luka or Run For a First Down Behind a Healthy Cowboys Line?

| 2 days ago

I will try to set this up as thoroughly as possible, so the comments aren’t all But what about this?—though I’m sure they will be regardless.

(Before I go on, I am only talking to regular, non-pro athlete types. If you played college ball, you can also excuse yourself. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say you are built like me: 6 feet in shoes, maybe 170 pounds if I had a big lunch.)

It has often been noted that playing with Luka Doncic makes life easier for most of his teammates, at least on the offensive side of the ball. If you get open—or even if you’re not, or maybe not aware that you are—Luka will find you, put the ball in your hands, and give you a very good chance to score the basketball as a a player. In this scenario, you are in a regulation NBA game, it’s 10:30 mark of the second quarter, and your primary defender has played about four minutes of game time. All you have to do is make one bucket. A layup for two points is just as good as a three-pointer. But it has to be a shot from the field. Free throws do not count. You have to make a shot, as close or as far away as you want. But you have to do it by halftime.

Oh, and also: everyone on the opposing team believes that you have posted on TikTok about how easy it would be to score in an NBA game, though it was really just a deep fake created by me. Well, funded by me. I don’t know how to do that, but I can project manage from time to time.

Do you think that is easier than running for a first down?

In that scenario, you have four downs to get the job done. Everyone on the Cowboys offensive line is in peak condition. It’s the first game of the season, and no one is dealing with any nagging injuries. They are as fresh as possible. Also, they have no idea what you are up to. We have created a back story for you. Your name is Pantry Greer and you are a former Division III quarterback trying to make it as a running back; the highlight video we have put together shows a shifty, tough runner who is as likely to put his head down to pick up inside yardage as he is to break a play outside and try to make defenders miss in space. You can pick whatever plays you want, including trick plays. You want to run the wishbone? Go for it. Four plays to get 10 yards.

Also, I should mention that, during the week running up to the game, several journalists have reported that you were in attendance at the storming of the Capitol.

So: which do you think you can pull off — bucket in an NBA game or NFL first down?

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Local News

Latest Homeless Count Shows Growing Scale of Housing Crisis in Dallas

| 2 days ago

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance today released the results of its latest point-in-time count, an annual survey of homelessness in the Dallas area. Outreach teams in February and March found 4,570 people who were homeless in Dallas and Collin counties.

That’s up from last year, when 4,471 people were counted, but the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance cautioned that this year’s count isn’t comparable for a few reasons. MDHA, which coordinates dozens of organizations and services centered on housing and homelessness, typically relies on teams of volunteers to venture out on one night in January to conduct surveys. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the count was instead conducted by professionals over the course of a couple weeks, between Feb. 18 and March 3. (The “night of record,” for the survey’s purpose, was Feb. 18; people were asked where they had slept that particular night.)

Those weeks also fell during the winter storms and power outages that ripped through Texas, and may have skewed the number of people counted as “sheltered” because they were housed in warming shelters amid the freezing temperatures. The report estimates “that approximately 600 of those who were counted in warming stations would have been on the streets were it not for the cold. The effect of the pandemic on availability of beds in the emergency shelters because of the necessity of social distancing during the pandemic also may have affected the emergency shelter count. In addition, persons experiencing homelessness may be reluctant to stay at a shelter due to fear of the virus.”

Teams count both “sheltered and unsheltered” people, including people who are staying in shelters or transitional housing as well as those who are sleeping on the street or in an encampment.

Mandated by the federal government, these counts help the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decide how to distribute grant money. If only a snapshot, the count also gives area service providers a better picture picture of the families and individuals who need help finding somewhere stable to live. Even with the asterisks noted above, the statistics and charts from this year’s count are depressingly similar to years past. These are taken from the report:

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What Fans Should Expect at This Week’s AT&T Byron Nelson

| 3 days ago

Last year, leaders from ClubCorp, the Salesmanship Club, Craig Ranch, the City of McKinney, and other business and civic leaders aggressively went after—and won—the right to host the AT&T Byron Nelson, which had moved to Trinity Forest Golf Club in southern Dallas after a long run at the TPC Four Seasons in Las Colinas.

David Craig, who developed the sprawling Craig Ranch community, aimed for its golf course to host a major PGA TOUR event from the start. And finally, his efforts have been rewarded. At an event announcing a five-year deal to host the tournament at TPC Craig Ranch last spring, Craig made one thing very clear: “We are going to bring the party back,” he said.

After a 2020 hiatus, the tournament returns to North Texas this week, May 13-16.

“It has been more than 725 days since we gave away our last trophy,” tournament director Jon Drago told D CEO. “It’s refreshing to be out here and opening up the doors and doing what we do. We’re excited to host the fans and hear the cheers from the crowd again.”

The sold-out event will have a limited fan capacity of 12,500 per day—about one-fourth of what it will be able to accommodate in future years. Even with those limitations, fans will have a great time, Drago promises.

“We think they will feel that energy, the way the tournament is designed and the way the course sets up,” he said. “The back nine, when things kind of get exciting, are all set up very well for the fan experience.”

Attendees are guaranteed some great golf, with 15 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings on board. Some of the big names include Dustin Johnson [update: DJ withdrew from the tournament because of a dodgy knee], currently ranked No. 1, defending champion Sung Kang, hometown hero Jordan Spieth, plus Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, and Hideki Matsuyama—fresh off his recent Masters Tournament win.

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