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Not so Tolerance Bridge

Remember Tolerance Bridge? When it was first announced, a lot of people expressed ambivalence (at best) about the name. Now the city has joined in on that.

“It has too many hints of negativity,” said Councilman Jarvis Johnson. “It’s like my grandmother saying ‘I will not tolerate somebody yelling.’ I don’t want to just ‘tolerate’ any other culture, I want to embrace it, if you’re really talking about unity.”

After announcing the project in early December, Mayor Bill White received some feedback about the title, and asked the Houston Arts Alliance to contact its membership for more ideas. The organization is taking suggestions through Jan. 31.

Here’s the Alliance’s website. I don’t know who is supposed to be suggesting alternate names to them, since I don’t see anything there that’s soliciting feedback, but I suppose you can use their contact page if you feel so inclined.

Neither the city nor Houston Arts Alliance could say who will make the final decision on a name, although [philanthropist Mica] Mosbacher said she is still looking for donors, so someone who gives “a major gift” could have “final input” on the name.

[Artist and blogger Bill] Davenport predicted it would all be for naught in the end.

“Inevitably, public art projects get nicknames,” he said. “They should just build it and wait to see what people nickname it. The people will win out.”

I kinda like that idea, and I say that as someone who had no objections to the original name. With the unique design this bridge will have, some wiseguy will come up with something.

More on Larry Swearingen

I’ve blogged before about Larry Swearingen, who is on death row and is scheduled for execution on January 27 even though forensic evidence clearly demonstrates his innocence of the murder of Melissa Trotter. Multiple experts, including the Harris County medical examiner who originally testified against him at his trial, now say that Trotter’s body was dumped while Swearingen was sitting in a jail cell. Yet the Court of Criminal Appeals, that bastion of injustice and illogic, has refused to order a new trial. It’s appalling, and is going to be a huge, avoidable tragedy if nothing happens to prevent it.

Now the Chron’s Lisa Falkenberg has picked up on the Texas Monthly story about Swearingen. She adds a few new details, including this:

Attorneys with the New-York based Innocence Project are also working feverishly on requests for DNA testing on the panty hose, Trotter’s clothing and more blood scrapings. They plan to appeal to Gov. Rick Perry’s office for a stay, and have unsuccessfully tried to get newly elected Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon to support a request for DNA testing.

Ligon didn’t return my call. Marc Brumberger, who handles the office’s appeals, said the new evidence doesn’t prove Swearingen didn’t kill Trotter. It only “throws in the prospect” that Swearingen may have initially refrigerated or frozen her body, then had help from an accomplice moving it into the woods while he was in jail.

[Swearingen’s attorney James] Rytting calls that far-fetched theory “guilt by imagination.” He said the DA’s office is grasping for explanations now that their case is crumbling.

“Their case is a lie and they’re going to kill him anyway,” Rytting says.

I shouldn’t be by now, but I continue to be amazed at how utterly pigheaded some DA’s offices can be about this. Have we learned nothing from Dallas’ experience? Let me put this in the simplest terms I can, simple enough that even Brett Ligon and Mark Brumberger can understand it: The actions of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office will enable a murderer to walk free and possibly to kill again. Even if you don’t care about Larry Swearingen, you ought to care about that.

Evolution remains legal in Texas

Whew! That was a close one.

In a major defeat for evolution critics, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop a long-time requirement that “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution be taught in high school science classes.

Under the science curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the board, biology teachers and biology textbooks would no longer have to cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of Charles Darwin’s theory on how humans evolved.

Opponents of the strengths and weaknesses requirement had warned that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism – the biblical explanation of the origin of humans – in science classes, while board members backing the rule insisted that was not their intention.

The seven Republican board members supporting the rule have been aligned with social conservative groups that in the past have tried to publicize alleged flaws in Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

The key vote Thursday was on an amendment to the proposed curriculum standards that would have restored the “weaknesses” rule. It was defeated on a 7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat was absent.

“We’re not talking about faith. We’re not talking about religion,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, who opposed the amendment. “We’re talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do.”

If you’ll pardon the expression, amen to that. Just so we’re clear, since it’s painfully obvious that the twits on the SBOE are not, this is what we’re technically arguing over. It’s very easy to get bogged down in nonsense in these debates, since the anti-evolution side is extremely prone to pushing things that have nothing to do with evolution as biologists understand it.

As seemingly silly as much of this is, this little squabble on the Board had potentially far-reaching consequences, as Julie Pippert noted. It would have been both ironic and deeply tragic if a handful of zealots in Austin had managed to dumb down science education across the country at a time when the country has new leadership that embraces science. Thankfully, we managed to dodge that bullet, for now.

On a related note, Evan Smith contends that the SBOE and its ridiculous antics are the biggest contributor to Texas’ negative image in other parts of the world. I left a comment there saying that I think our fascination with the death penalty does us more harm than these clowns do, but they’re certainly a factor. What do you think?

UH-Downtown to move ahead with name change

They still don’t know what they want to be called, however.

School leaders are going ahead with plans to rename the University of Houston-Downtown, despite opposition from students, alumni and some faculty members.

“If it has its own distinctive name, it can move forward (and) be known,” said Welcome Wilson Sr., chairman of the board that governs UH-Downtown and other schools in the UH system.

He and university president Max Castillo said Tuesday they believe the benefits of a new name would outweigh the disapproval of those who don’t want it to change.

Any new name would have to be approved by the Legislature, and Castillo said a new name could be in place by fall. He and Wilson met with the Chronicle editorial board Tuesday to explain their reasoning.

Regents voted last month to support the change but stopped short of recommending the name Castillo proposed: Houston Metropolitan University.

That’s still under consideration, however, along with University of South Texas, University of Southeast Texas, Gulf Coast State University and other options. Faculty, staff and students will vote on their top five choices; the vote ends Tuesday.

Regents will select a new name in February.

Michelle Moosally, an associate professor of English and president of the faculty Senate, said it’s been hard to gauge reaction, partially because classes just resumed after the holiday break.

Some people don’t want the name changed, she said. Others support a change, but don’t like any of the proposed names. And some feel rushed into making a decision.

Castillo acknowledged that the idea is not universally popular. “Right now, I’m the kiss of death on campus,” he said.

Hey, I liked Houston Metropolitan University, even if the regents didn’t. While it would probably be better to build a stronger consensus for whatever new name they choose, the fact is that the Lege is only in session for so long, and the more time you have to shepherd a bill through the process, the better your odds of success are. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if they don’t get a bill through and have to wait till 2011 to get this done. There’s also now some organized opposition to this – I got notice of a Facebook group called UH-D Community Standing Together, with the description “As students, graduates, faculty, staff & friends, we say NO to the name change.” I don’t really have a preference as to whether they go forward with this or not, I just wish them all luck in figuring it out, whatever happens.

You there! Stop evolving this minute!

Someone once said that no one’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session. I’d extend that observation to note that no one’s intelligence or education is safe when the SBOE is in session. For those who want the gory details of today’s farce hearings, I’ll point you to the Texas Freedom Network’s exhaustive liveblogging of the proceedings:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Vince has some background as well. You have to admire their fortitude – as Elise Hu said, “SBOE meetings really sap the life out of me.”

What all this comes down to is whether or not Texas will acquire a reputation for being hostile to science and research, and thus an unattractive place for high-tech companies to locate. Not really what you want to happen, especially in tough economic times, is it? If it does, you can thank the loony fringe of the Texas GOP for it.

UPDATE: Hair Balls is also on this – one, two, three.

And now the real work begins

Yesterday was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? (Well, for most of us, anyway.) I suspect there was a pretty big dip in productivity right around 11 AM at most workplaces. But now that the pomp is over, it’s time to get down to the hard work of fixing everything that’s gotten screwed up over the past eight years, and Lord knows that’s a long list. President Obama seems pretty determined, the public is largely with him, and even Congress appears to be ready to move forward. It’s going to be busy around here.

I should note that my cousin Jill’s crusade, along with the Handmade Toy Alliance, to revise the way the Consumer Products Safety and Information Act (CPSIA) was to be implemented for small businesses, made it to the top ten list at They’ve also got some momentum in Congress, as you can see in this letter (PDF) from Rep. Henry Waxman and others to the chair of the CPSC. I’m feeling optimistic about their chances to get this resolved.

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See ya, Vito

If I were still living on Staten Island, this guy would be my soon-to-be-former Congressman.

Speculation on the political future of Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) is running rampant today after he acknowledged that he is the father of a 3-year-old daughter with divorcee Laura Fay, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who picked him up from an Alexandria, Va., jail last week after he was busted for DWI.

“I have had a relationship with Laura Fay, with whom I have a three year old daughter,” the married Fossella said in a prepared statement e-mailed to reporters by consultant Susan Del Percio. “My personal failings and imperfections have caused enormous pain to the people I love and I am truly sorry.”

Ms. Del Percio said Fossella would not personally address the media today.

Fossella and his wife, Mary Pat, have three children.

Former GOP Borough President Guy Molinari, who has been among those advising Fossella since the scandal broke exactly one week ago, said that confronting the issue of the child he has with Ms. Fay had been “overwhelming” for Fossella.

“He’s in a very difficult mood,” said Molinari, who used to hold the congressional seat that Fossella sits in. “He’s just in a period of trying to do the right thing.”

I’m guessing the right thing would have included not driving drunk, not fathering a child out of wedlock, and not lying about it after getting busted, but it’s a tad late for all that. I’ll have to ask my dad what he’s hearing about this from his buddies back home.

Anyway. Chalk up another tough-to-defend open seat for the Republicans, as if they didn’t have enough of those. Daily Kos and Julia, who like me has roots on the Island, have more.

RIP, Maury Maverick, Jr.

Attorney and writer Maury Maverick, Jr., died Tuesday at the age of 82.

SAN ANTONIO — Attorney Maury Maverick Jr., a descendant of early Texas settlers and known for his passionate legal defense of the downtrodden, feisty wit and unrelenting opposition to war, died of kidney cancer Tuesday at the age of 82.

In recent years, many knew Maverick as a cantankerous Sunday columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, where he penned more than 1,000 columns — the last on Jan. 5.

But San Antonians who lived through the end of segregation in the 1950s, the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s recalled him as a giant of his time who made a mark as a rebellious state lawmaker and a flamboyant lawyer for liberal causes.

Never a wealthy man, Maverick did have a rich family history. His father was a congressman and mayor and his great-grandfather was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. Another ancestor perished in the Boston Massacre. The family’s history is so colorful, its name was converted into a common English expression dating to the 1870s that, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.”

Born Jan. 3, 1921, Maverick as a youth had a front-row seat for the making of San Antonio history. His father presided as mayor during construction of the city’s famed River Walk, and in 1939 he saw his father deal with rioting that ensued when he allowed Communist Party members to meet in Municipal Auditorium.

A few years later during World War II, wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, Maverick was fighting his own battles on the Solomon Islands. Returning from military service, he earned a law degree from St. Mary’s University in 1949. Working without pay, he gradually became an outspoken lawyer for hundreds of disenfranchised individuals and groups.


In his final column published earlier this month, Maverick pondered the legitimacy of a possible war with Iraq, saying “why, for some 60 years since World War II, have we the people tolerated a non-declaration of war? Patriotism includes showing a proper respect for the professional military. Members of the military cannot speak up. We civilians must,” he said.

They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Maury.

Saying “No”

Matthew Yglesias notes that the eeeevil liberal media may be growing a backbone over Priscilla Owen, the judicial activist judge from Texas that Bush wants to install on the federal bench. May the Democrats on the judiciary committee be similarly emboldened.

Operation Moon Rocks

The FBI has busted up a moon-rock-selling operation by arresting four former employees of Johnson Space Center in a sting operation.

Sometimes, when the Dow is again in the crapper, and there’s not much interesting going on at work or on TV, and your wife has just left town for a three-day business trip, it’s nice to know you can still find something to make the whole thing worthwhile. Thanks, guys.

Take two

This is a second test to see if the blog body will increase in size. I want to get all the archive and link stuff off to the right rather than underneath.

Is this thing on?

This is a test of Movable Type. If this had been…oh, hell, you know the drill.

The Bachelor Strikes Back

Alex Rubalcava responds to my objections regarding the provocative email purportedly from Alex Michel of the ABC reality show The Bachelor. He also forwarded me the email he himself had received.

I still can’t say for sure that the mail wasn’t faked. I’d have to see the original mail from either Sahrbeck or Locker, and even then they could have set up a fake address to send the mail to. Still, the mail Rubalcava forwarded me differed from most multiply-forwarded email hoaxes in that it was a complete chain back to the originator. Often, the contents have been cut and pasted into some other message, then forwarded around. Rubalcava says Sahrbeck and Locker’s contact info checks out, which is another point generally in its favor. Usually, the original hoaxer is unknown and untraceable. Of course, some people do it for the publicity. We’ll get a better feel for that when and if this hits the Old Media’s radar screen.

So, while I still have my reservations, I admit that there is a decent case to be made for authenticity. If I can find a little spare time, I may get out my houndstooth cap and do a little digging myself. Stay tuned.

Referrals, we get referrals

If you’ve come here via the link on Matt Welch’s Warblog, please note that his URL contains a typo, which is why you’re here at the top of the page instead of here, which is where he intended to send you.

Regardless, I’m glad you’re here. Don’t be a stranger, take off your coat and stay awhile.

UPDATE: I’m pretty sure this was the referral that first put me on the map. I got a ton of hits (over 200 on the first day) from this, and subsequently started seeing myself on more blogrolls. Actually, it’s Matt Yglesias who deserves the most thanks, since Welch cited Yglesias’ cite of my post.