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July 26th, 2015:

Weekend link dump for July 26

If you can’t read this you are, like me, old.

How long will premium providers like HBO allow password sharing for their streaming services?

The dark side of barbecue.

Excited about the return of Bloom County? Here’s an interview with Berke Breathed from last year that’s worth reading.

“Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss.”

“Oregonians will be able to buy birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription beginning next year, potentially making the state the first in the nation to allow the practice.”

So if you have an account on AshleyMadison.com, you might want to consider changing your password. And hoping your spouse is the forgiving type.

“What we’re trying to stop is the phenomenon of people buying buildings and evicting tenants so they can rent to tourists for three to four times as much.”

Hidecki Matsui is a mensch.

“If Republican leaders want to argue that attacks on Americans’ military service are simply beyond the pale, perhaps party officials can take this opportunity to apologize to John Kerry, who was smeared by Swiftboat lies in the 2004 cycle – lies that were celebrated at the time by 2016 candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – and who saw the spectacle at the Republican National Convention of party activists mocking Purple Hearts. While they’re it, Republicans can express some regret for related smears directed at former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).”

What BlueGirl says.

Butt dialing brings no expectation of privacy with it.

RIP, Theodore Bikel, award-winning actor, musician, and author, best known for playing Tevye onstage.

RIP, Tom Moore, longtime “Archie” comics artist.

Please don’t take selfies with the wildlife.

Shatner v. Cruz. Shatner wins.

Manhattan Clam Chowder Con Gulf Oysters. Served with pea-infused guacamole.

“Let’s just be real” about charter schools

Very interesting.

Chirs Barbic

“Let’s just be real,” Chris Barbic wrote last week when announcing his resignation as superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Then Barbic admitted what skeptics of charter schools have preached for years — “achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.”

Barbic, as founder of the highly acclaimed YES Prep charter school network in Houston, was used to starting schools from scratch, enrolling students whose parents chose to send them there instead of to their zoned school. Charter schools in Texas are supposed to be open-enrollment, meaning they can’t set admission criteria, but some people argue that charters benefit simply from enrolling children with more motivated parents.

Tennessee presented a different challenge for Barbic. There, he was charged with launching a special school district that included the state’s lowest-performing schools. A key part of Barbic’s mission was to recruit charter networks to step in and improve the schools. However, he ran into some trouble as most charter operators have a start-from-scratch model, rather than taking over existing schools. Even YES Prep withdrew from the experiment.

“As a charter school founder,” Barbic wrote in his resignation letter, “I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier picked up on Barbic’s comments and tweeted, “Chris Barbic — courage to tell truth!”

The Houston advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education also weighed in, taking Barbic’s statement as an admission that his success was “due more to smoke and mirrors.”

In fact, Barbic’s resignation letter does not go that far. He stands by his philosophy that good teachers and principals can make a significant difference in improving student achievement, despite the challenges of poverty.

“The ‘poverty trumps education’ argument sells our educators, and more importantly, our kids way too short,” Barbic wrote. “And it is perhaps one of the most dangerous propositions that exists in our country today.”

Read the whole thing, and be sure to read Barbic’s letter of resignation. Barbic is still very much an advocate for the charter model, but his words about the challenges of replicating the kind of success that some charters have had should be heeded. Tennessee’s Achievement School District experiment is one of only a couple like it around the country, but it’s an idea that has attracted attention, including here in Texas. There was a bill by Sen. Larry Taylor, chair of the Senate Education Committee, to establish Achievement School Districts, also called “Opportunity School Districts” here, in Texas, but it didn’t get anywhere. A “parent trigger” bill that would have allowed “parents of students at underperforming public schools to demand fixes from the state commissioner of education including hiring new staff, contracting with a charter school operator to take over management or closing the school altogether” did clear the Senate but did not get a vote in the House. I feel confident that Dan Patrick isn’t going to give up on either of these ideas in 2017, and Greg Abbott is a fan as well. Barbic himself defended the ASD concept in response to a Lisa Falkenberg column that was critical of an Abbott plan for some form of ASDs in Texas. I trust Barbic’s more recent words will come up when this idea inevitably comes up again in two years.

Revisiting the historic preservation ordinance

This sort of thing is always fun.

Houstonians who live in historic districts, including the Old Sixth Ward, the Heights and the High First Ward, weighed in this week on proposed updates to the city’s rules that create areas preserved from most demolition and new construction, agreeing with some proposed changes, pointing out loopholes for unwanted development and taking the opportunity to complain about the current process.

The proposed revisions to the historic ordinance, which would enable creation of a process to create and manage historic districts, were presented in summary at a public hearing Wednesday night. The meeting was part of the efforts of the Planning and Development Department and the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission to refine the ordinance.

[…]

The ordinance, updated in 2010, created permanent protections for historic structures in the 22 designated districts and established a process for creating a district. The proposed changes strive to streamline approvals for requested changes within a district, provide guidance to the commission and create a more efficient process.

Many of those issues came to light Wednesday, even as it was acknowledged that historic districts are some of the strongest land-use laws Houston offers to property owners. A large contingency showed up from the Old Sixth Ward, one of the oldest districts. The neighborhood is near downtown, with houses dating back to the 1800s.

Resident Jane West asked the panel to consider how new construction is monitored in historic districts. She cited an instance in which a noncontributing structure was demolished but then replaced with a building that was larger than what was there before.

“We want to make sure the districts are a shield for neighborhoods, not a sword for developers,” West said.

Others from various districts in Montrose, the Heights and First Ward complained of the vague design requirements, the lack of term limits on the historic commission panel and the seemingly arbitrary process for approvals.

See here for the last update. All things considered, this has been fairly low-key. People can get mighty exercised about this, but at least by this story it sounds more like grumbling than outrage. I suppose that could change when the HAHC presents its recommendations at the next meeting, on August 5. But for now, this seems manageable.

Meanwhile, in other preservation news:

The Heights Theatre anchors a strip of vintage buildings converted into restaurants and small shops on buzzing 19th Street, its red-and-white Art Moderne sign a beacon to the neighborhood since the theater opened its doors nearly 90 years ago and screened a silent Western for 20 cents a ticket. Today, it’s a home for art exhibits and special events and could soon be hosting concerts.

In downtown Houston, the three-story building at 308 Main blends in on its block of colorful and thriving Victorian commercial buildings, the last vestiges of Main Street’s 19th century past. Evenings these days, its balcony and downstairs bar draw young professionals to the to the nightlife offerings along the street.

Both the downtown and Heights buildings survived fires over the decades and have seen many businesses and concepts come and go, as interest waxed and waned in their respective neighborhoods. Both survive as destinations, thanks in part to their historic feel.

On Wednesday, a unanimous Houston City Council granted both structures the strongest form of historic protection in free-wheeling, tear-down Houston. Members voted to make the Heights Theatre, 339 W. 19th, and the Victorian at 308 Main protected landmarks. Two houses built by famed architects also were granted landmark status.

The commercial buildings on Main and on 19th received the highest level of protection in the city with “protected landmark” designation. This means the facade of the structures cannot be altered without approval and they cannot be torn down, except in cases of extreme hardship for the property owner.

The protected status is more sweeping than historic landmark, in which owners can tear down or alter their properties after a 90-day waiting period to allow time for negotiations with preservationists.

Built in 1929 with a Mission-style stucco façade, and updated in 1935 with an Art Moderne-style exterior, the Heights Theatre was partially destroyed by arson in 1969 and sat vacant until the late 1980s. It has since gone through a series of uses, including an antique store.

The property will soon be sold and become a music venue, said current owner Gus Kopriva, a Heights resident who has owned the property with his wife Sharon for 25 years.

The couple sought the landmark status to make sure the property was protected before it was sold to another owner. It currently serves as an art gallery and event space. Preservation was a stipulation in the sale of the building.

“The theater has always been an icon of the Heights,” Kopriva said. “It was important to us to make sure it was preserved.”

Cool. I’d love to see that place get used for something along the lines of its original purpose. And it’s great when the owners see historic designation as an asset. I look forward to seeing what its next phase looks like.

To the moon with David Adickes

Awesome.

Before David Adickes walked out his door to get to a news conference Wednesday, he decided to paint a 12-13 inch model of an Apollo astronaut perched on a roughly 5-inch base that he was holding.

The 88-year-old artist and sculptor had used colors of the American flag. His right hand reaching for the sky, the astronaut was “wearing” a white suit with a red stripe on each limb, red and blue buttons on the front and an American flag on the left shoulder. Tucked to his side with his left hand was a white helmet, complete with a gold visor.

“And then the phone started ringing,” Adickes said. “So, I’m late,” he added before walking upstairs into a conference room where some project backers were gathered to hear more details about the enterprise.

The model in Adickes’ hands foreshadowed what he hopes will be done in “about a year plus” – a 100-foot version of it in statue form. It will be in what will become a Webster business park catering to the aerospace sector.

If everything goes right, the statue will be bigger than Adickes’ Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin statues.

[…]

Adickes added that his latest statue will be done in 10-foot sections brought to the site and hoisted up by two cranes and let down over two big pieces of strong steel, like a “skeleton in each leg.” The process will be “pretty much seamless,” but any seams will be fixed throughout the process. He is working on an 8-foot model of the statue he says will be done soon.

“I’m going to then cast two plaster versions of it,” Adickes said. “One of them will be portable, and we’ll use it for gala events … and the other one will be the one that we’ll use at the shop.”

Originally, the astronaut was to have a backpack, its right arm raised to its head in a salute. However, Adickes got rid of the backpack and decided to have the astronaut’s hand wave instead.

“Because when he got back from the moon, in the case of Neil Armstrong, or all of them, they leave the backpack behind and they wave and say, moon, very cool, everybody should go there,” Adickes said to the amusement of some in the conference room.

I don’t really have anything to say here. I’m just an unabashed fan of David Adickes, and it makes me happy to know that he’s in the process of creating another one of his signature statues. I can’t wait to see the finished work.