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April 2nd, 2016:

Saturday video break: In The Air Tonight

A classic of the 80s, from a pre-bald Phil Collins:

Collins gets a lot of guff for hist stylized, very-80s albums, but I thought “Face Value” and “Hello, I Must Be Going!” were great. I loved his re-take on Genesis’ “Behind the Lines”, and I’m always a sucker for a good horn riff. I wore out the cassette tape I made of these two albums back in the pre-CD days.

Here’s a different take on this song by Takka Takka:

I don’t usually pay much attention to the number of views on the videos I embed, but that first one had over 85 million, while this one had, um, 85. Make of that what you will.

What will the business lobby do to prevent a North Carolina anti-equality law being passed in Texas?

That’s the question that needs to be asked.

RedEquality

Texas business leaders and LGBT advocates hope economic backlash over an anti-LGBT bill in North Carolina will deter lawmakers from taking up similar legislation next year in Austin.

More than 100 CEOs and business leaders, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, sent a letter this week to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory calling on the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2, which he signed last week.

The bill prohibits cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and bars transgender people from using restrooms and other facilities according to their gender identity.

Similar measures were introduced in Texas last year, but died without hearings.

“We certainly don’t want Texas to appear to be unwelcoming for future talent, and that’s what I think we’ll get if something like North Carolina’s bill is taken up by our Legislature,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state’s chamber of commerce.

Last year, TAB came out against a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill, but didn’t take a position on proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances or restrict restroom access for trans people. However, Wallace said TAB’s board may consider doing so at a September meeting where it will set its legislative agenda for 2017.

“Talent availability is the number one issue among businesses today in Texas,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we have future employees, and we don’t need any issues like this getting in our way.”

[…]

After more than 20 anti-LGBT bills were defeated in Texas last year, socially conservative groups criticized the business community for opposing them. And last week, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch responded to corporate backlash in North Carolina by calling the TAB opposition to anti-LGBT bills “huffing and puffing,” and described boycotts as “economic terrorism.”

“We stand with the pastors and legislators in North Carolina and our commitment is that we will defend what is right, decent, honorable and good for all citizens in Texas, including necessary legislation to defend our liberty and our families,,” Welch wrote in an email to the council’s members.

It would be nice to think that the backlash in North Carolina will be swift and severe enough to dissuade most legislators from even thinking about following down that path, but it’s clear that the zealots don’t care about any of that. What I hope is clear from that is that the business community comes to realize that being on the same side as those guys – in particular, supporting the same legislative candidates as those guys – will not work out well for them. Which brings me to the question of what are they going to do about that? To be fair, there’s not that much that can be done this year. Primaries are over, there are only a handful of runoffs to be decided, and as we know there aren’t that many competitive districts in November. That’s unfortunate, because the one message that is always received clearly is losing an election. Democrats should still make this an issue in their races, if only to offer clarity. If the business lobby doesn’t then deliver a few horse’s heads a the start of the next legislative session, then as with the immigration issue I don’t see why we should take their oft-expressed concerns seriously. They can do something about this if they want to. If they don’t, that tells you what you need to know.

Earthquake!

It’s a real risk in Dallas now.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has a 1 to 5 percent chance of experiencing an earthquake strong enough to damage buildings in the next year, the U.S. Geological Survey said Monday.

That risk has grown tenfold since 2008, when the area began experiencing a surge of mild to moderate-sized quakes, said Mark Petersen, chief of the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project at the USGS in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News. North Texas’ earthquake hazard is now on par with parts of Oklahoma and California.

“One of the big concerns for me is that there is a very high population density in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and this activity is taking place within that area,” he said.

Last week, The News obtained a report, produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, detailing the potential damage from earthquakes of magnitude 4.8 and 5.6, which fall within the hazard map predictions.

The vast majority of damage to buildings would be minor, such as cracks in walls and ceilings. “I don’t want people to feel like their houses are all going to come down,” Petersen said.

But he said he couldn’t rule out a larger earthquake because the Dallas-Fort Worth area has long faults running through it that may have the potential to rupture.

Earthquakes and their risks are in the news this week because of a new report from the US Geological Survey that mapped out the risks of both natural and human-induced earthquakes. Here’s NPR.

A decade ago, an Oklahoman could count the number of noticeable quakes on her fingers. “In this past year, we had over 900,” says USGS seismic hazard expert Mark Petersen. “So the rates have surged.”

Petersen says induced quakes have become more frequent because there’s more wastewater from oil and gas operations around the country that has to be disposed of. Companies pump it down into underground wells, and sometimes that water raises pressure on underground faults that then slip and cause small quakes.

Industry officials say the percentage of waste wells that pose quake risks is very low. But with the rise in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which produces a lot of polluted water that needs to be disposed of, the overall number of waste wells around the country has skyrocketed.

The new maps also include the risks of natural quakes around the country, as they have in the past. Those risks haven’t changed much. But the number of induced quakes has increased tenfold since 2014, according to the USGS.

Petersen notes that most of these induced quakes are not likely to bring down buildings. Most are in the range of magnitude 3 or 4, which are minor. But some are above magnitude 5, which can do serious damage — cause cracks in your house, for example, or in bridges and roads.

[…]

“I think that we need help people understand that they do face a risk in these areas of induced earthquake activity,” Petersen says, “and they need to take precautions just like people in California do.”

Taking precautions against induced earthquakes — such as strengthening buildings or changing insurance rates — might be tricky, though.

Mark Zoback, a geophysicist at Stanford University who studies induced quakes, says: “It’s important to recognize the risk that these maps point out, but that risk is going to change depending on what’s happening on the ground.” Wastewater wells may not be active for more than a few months or a year; after that, they may no longer pose a risk. Meanwhile, it can take years for a state or community to change building codes to make structures more quake-sturdy.

Moreover, some states have started to ban or limit waste wells in these quake zones. “And in the few places where the injection has stopped,” Zoback says, “the earthquakes have stopped.”

Zoback adds that the boom in oil and gas exploration in some places is dwindling, which would likely mean fewer waste wells and lower risk. On the other hand, wherever the industry drills new waste wells could become the next quake hot spot.

Can’t wait to see what the discussion of this looks like in next year’s Legislature. Assuming they’re allowed to talk about it at all, of course. Vox and the Chron have more.

Japan rules, please

The people behind the proposed high-speed rail line in Texas would like for it to be built under the same rules as existing Japanese high-speed rail lines.

Railway operator JR Tokai and an American partner will petition federal regulators to set new rules allowing an ultrahigh-speed line here to be built to Japanese bullet train specifications.

The roughly 400km line connecting Dallas and Houston would meet the same standards used by the Tokaido Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka. That line is operated by JR Tokai, formally known as Central Japan Railway. A three- to four-hour trip by car between the two cities in Texas would take less than 90 minutes on shinkansen bullet trains with a top speed of 320kph.

Texas Central Partners, the company steering the enterprise, is plotting out the route and wooing investors. JR Tokai will set up a unit by year-end to lend the project technical support.

In the U.S., high-speed trains use the same tracks as freight cars and conventional passenger trains. There are no dedicated tracks for high-speed service. Regulations mandate strong, heavy rail cars to minimize casualties from collisions.

But the Tokaido Shinkansen has no railroad crossings, and centralized traffic control with an automatic braking system further reduces the odds of a collision. So its cars can be built lighter, enabling higher speeds and easing the impact on the environment.

Texas Central Partners and JR Tokai will formally request as early as April that the Federal Railroad Administration issue the new rules. Both companies had been talking with the agency behind the scenes. Texas Central Partners hopes to begin construction in 2017 pending the new regulations and separate environmental assessments, with an aim to launch service in 2021.

Seems reasonable to me. There isn’t an existing model for this in the US, so I don’t know how likely this is or how difficult it will be to get these new rules. Bureaucracy can be a strange thing, and as we know this sort of request won’t happen in a vacuum. The various opponents of the project will surely try to get this request denied. So who knows what will happen. With a favorable ruling, I’d assume Texas Central will remain on schedule to begin building in 2017 and running in 2021. Without it, we’ll just have to see.

We Heart Houston…someplace else

A popular piece of public art is looking for a new location.

It’s difficult not to smile while driving east on I-10 when passing the “We Heart Houston” sculpture near the Patterson St. exit in the Heights. Since 2013, the colorful, 20-foot-tall work has been a great sight for those with pride in Houston. However, the sculpture’s days there are numbered.

The good news? Houston is getting a larger, more substantial sculpture touting our arts scene in its place. “Art is Everywhere Houston” is on the horizon, and promises to make an even greater impact.

The “We Heart Houston” sculpture’s new location is currently under consideration according to the artist, 89-year-old David Adickes. A prolific and treasured local sculptor, Adickes has numerous larger-than-life works to his credit including “Virtuoso” at the Lyric Center, the enormous President’s Heads, and the 76-foot-tall Sam Houston on display on I-45 in Huntsville.

Adickes is working with the Houston First Corporation to review options. Houston First is the agency charged with enhancing the quality of life in our city, as well as advancing economic prosperity, and the city’s image with the world.

“At first we thought we would move it in front of the Hobby Center on the slope of Buffalo Bayou,” Adickes said. “As people drove by, the skyline would have formed a backdrop for the piece. It was the perfect spot.”

Well, not exactly perfect, as it turns out. The portion along Buffalo Bayou chosen for the sculpture routinely floods. Decision-makers concluded that it was only a matter of time before a photograph of a half-submerged “We Heart Houston” sign saturated the internet – not exactly an image the city wants to project.

‘My next choice of locations is on the jogging path as it runs near Stude Park in the Heights. People could still see the sculpture from the street as they drive by, and it would lend itself to joggers and people in the park taking selfies. That’s another good solution,” stated Adickes.

Why the big move? Since the sculpture’s placement on Adickes’ 3,000-square-foot sliver of property along the feeder of I-10, a large town home development was constructed be hind the work. Then, another wall was built between the town homes and the sculpture itself. The aesthetics no longer fit, says Adickes

“Another reason we’re moving ‘We Heart Houston,’ is safety,” said Christine West, Cultural Programs Manager with Houston First. “It’s popular, and people want to stop and photograph themselves standing with sculpture, but it’s dangerous to do that where it is. There’s no parking along the feeder road and traffic whizzes by there. Houston First wants to place it where people and families can enjoy it without risk, and we can actively maintain it.”

Sounds reasonable to me. As you know, I’m a longtime fan of Adickes’ work, and my kids love this particular piece, so I’m glad it will be moved to a place that is safer and more convenient for taking pictures. I feel confident it will be making an appearance on my Facebook wall in the near future.