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November 22nd, 2020:

Weekend link dump for November 22

Three reasons why Joe Biden won back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

A few words from Alex Trebek’s widow, thanking people for the nice things they’ve had to say about her husband.

“Early in President Trump’s term, McSweeney’s editors began to catalog the head-spinning number of misdeeds coming from his administration. We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten. This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.”

“Let’s count down the 50 worst people over this entire train wreck of an administration. We’re avoiding all the awful outside allies and toadies, from Sean Hannity to Lil Wayne, Jerry Falwell Jr. to James O’Keefe, the late Bob Murray to Vladimir Putin to Diamond and Silk. We focus on the people paid by taxpayers (and Trump campaign donors) to destroy the country and the planet. Plus, of course, Rudy Giuliani.”

What will the press do without Trump? How will we function without a towering political figure to kick and be kicked around by? And, what will the press do about Trump? Once he’s out of office, how much longer will we allow him to set the news agenda?”

“A new report from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights a bleak reality: Measles, the highly contagious but vaccine-preventable viral illness, infected at least 860,000 people and killed over 200,000 worldwide in 2019—a roughly 50% jump in deaths from 2016. Sadly, the covid-19 pandemic is likely to make this situation even worse.”

“Baltimore Museum of Art’s restrooms to be named in honor of John Waters, for donating 375 pieces of art”.

Be careful about allowing site notifications.

Kazakh-Americans are not pleased with Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.

Some advice for handling the 2020 holiday season.

More than you wanted to know about Jerry Falwell, Junior and Giancarlo Granda – if that name doesn’t ring a bell, it will as soon as you click the links.

RIP, Lindy McDaniel, longtime relief pitcher for the Yankees and other teams.

“The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting COVID-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”

“I wasn’t going to share this, but I think doing so is a public service, so here we go: it’s likely that my 12yo daughter has Covid. The past 3 days have been crazy, but I think telling the story of how this happened is important.”

“So will there come a time—before the inauguration on January 20—when Americans who care about democracy and who yearn for an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis can breath easy? With Trump at the helm, the answer is…probably not. But there are some upcoming dates to anticipate.”

RIP, Ira B. Scott, longtime educator and oldest living member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

“One of the things happening in South Dakota is an infection rate that’s among the worst in the nation, at about 8,000 cases per 100,000 people. In Vermont, another small, rural state with a Republican governor, Gov. Phil Scott has embraced safety measures, and the differences are pretty stark. Like South Dakota, Vermont has fewer than 1 million residents, most of whom don’t live in cities. It has about 500 cases per 100,000 people. That’s the lowest rate in the nation.”

“But COVID-19 works slowly. It takes several days for infected people to show symptoms, a dozen more for newly diagnosed cases to wend their way to hospitals, and even more for the sickest of patients to die. These lags mean that the pandemic’s near-term future is always set, baked in by the choices of the past. It means that Ricketts is already too late to stop whatever UNMC will face in the coming weeks (but not too late to spare the hospital further grief next month). It means that some of the people who get infected over Thanksgiving will struggle to enter packed hospitals by the middle of December, and be in the ground by Christmas.”

Beware color-coded county maps

I spotted this on Twitter the other day and it got me thinking:

A larger view of the embedded image is here. It was just barely large enough that I was able to compare it to my now-favorite map of Texas counties and figure out what most of those blue places are. (I didn’t work my way through all of them, for various reasons that included my eyesight and my sanity.) I snagged the Texas portion of that image, pasted it into Paint, doubled it in size, and then labeled some of the counties of interest. My handiwork, such as it is, is here. Take a look at that for a minute, then let’s come back and discuss the two main problems with imagery of this kind.

Ready? Problem number one is that you don’t get any sense of the absolute size of the shift, in either direction, from this image. Harris County, which I feel confident you can find even though I have unkindly drawn lines through it to point to other counties of interest, is rendered in medium blue, to show a 10-20 point shift in preference. But that shift represents over 200,000 total votes in favor of Democrats. That didn’t just help to carve into the overall vote lead that Republicans have had in the state, it has enabled Democrats to entirely flip county government, including the judiciary and numerous appellate benches, while also netting a Congressional seat and two State Rep seats. Contrast that to Starr County, which has gotten so much attention and which is among the dark red counties along the southern border, which moved about eight thousand votes towards Republicans. That shift was more significant at the Presidential level, by the way – it’s a bit less than a five thousand vote shift in the Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. Not nothing, and definitely a cause for concern for Democrats, but nowhere close to as substantial as the shift in Harris County. But you would never know that, and the color coding makes it even more misleading.

Problem two is related to problem one but manifests itself in a slightly different way. That problem is that this shift is about the percentage difference between 2012 and 2020. Before I get to the specifics, let me try to explain why this gives a distorted description of the problem with a sports example. Suppose the Texans are playing the Ravens. At the end of the first quarter, the Ravens lead 14-7, which is to say that the Ravens have scored 66.7% of the points in the game. In the second quarter, the Ravens score another touchdown and also add a field goal, while the Texans score a touchdown. That makes the score 24-14 at halftime, and it means that the Ravens scored only 58.9% of the points in the second quarter. Which, if you go by the math used in Nate Cohn’s map, a fifteen-point shift in the Texans’ favor – they went from being down 33 points in the first quarter to being down only eighteen points in the second quarter. Look at them mounting a comeback!

Except of course that on the actual scoreboard, the Ravens have extended their lead from seven points to ten points. The rate by which they are increasing their lead has slowed, but their lead is still growing. The Texans now have a larger deficit to overcome. Perhaps the trends are now in their favor, but the bottom line is that they’re still farther behind than they were before.

All that is why you should look at the light blue shift in Montgomery County, for example, with a cocked eyebrow. It is true, in 2012 Mitt Romney took 79.7% of the vote in Montgomery County to Barack Obama’s 19.0%, for a sixty point lead, while Donald Trump carried Montgomery by a mere 44 points, 71.2 to 27.4. But as we have discussed before, that translated into another 14K net votes for Republicans at the top of the ticket. The Democrats’ deficit continues to grow even as the Republicans’ rate of acceleration has declined. It’s comfort of the coldest kind. The same is very much true for Parker and Johnson counties, and for counties we have not yet discussed, like Comal and Medina and Ector and Midland.

It’s not all gloom and doom. In some places where the deficit increased, the rate of that increase dropped a lot, to the point where you could imagine it turning around in the next election. Lubbock County is an example of that – again, I’ll be going into that in more detail in a later post. In some counties, like Caldwell and Bastrop, there was actually a small gain between 2016 and 2020 after a bigger drop from 2012 to 2016, so while the overall gap is still significant, the direction is what you want. Imagine the Texans winning the second quarter of our game 7-6, so that they now trail 20-14. Denton and Collin counties, which are dark blue in the Cohn map, are the canonical examples here, though Brazos County makes a nice showing as well. We’re still trailing, but you can see how we get to the lead from here.

I don’t want you to look too skeptically at every blue spot that isn’t immediately identifiable as a Dem beacon. Dems really don’t need to win too many counties to carry Texas some fine day, because of their massive advantage in the biggest counties. We don’t need Montgomery County to turn blue to win the state. We don’t even need it to be on a path to turning blue. We just need the gap between Republicans and Democrats to quit growing, and maybe shrink a little. One way we were able to turn Harris County blue was that we could rally Democrats in heavily Republican areas because they knew their votes were important to flipping (and now maintaining) the county as a Democratic bastion. In Montgomery, that task is abstracted out one level further – there aren’t any local candidates who are likely to win, at a district or county level, so the motivation has to come from your votes mattering at the state level. It’s a heavier lift, since those statewide candidates won’t be as well known locally and will likely not spend much if any time there campaigning, and I have tons of respect for the effort made in spite of those conditions. We need that in more places around the state.

Again, we have discussed some of this before, and will discuss it again soon. I’m now thinking I need to adapt my Presidential-level vote series on “surrounding counties” to the Senate and other statewide races. That ought to keep me busy for the next few weeks.

Before we go, one more example that highlights both of the issues I have identified in this post. Take a look at King County, east of Lubbock and north of Abilene (Taylor County). Who would have expected a blue shift in a place like that? Well, here are the numbers for King County in 2012 and 2020:


Romney  Obama  Romney%  Obama%  Margin
======================================
   139      5    95.9%    3.5%    92.4

 Trump  Biden   Trump%  Biden%  Margin
======================================
   151      8    95.0%    5.0%    90.0

There was one vote in 2012 for Libertarian Gary Johnson, and no third-party or write-in votes in 2020. This is what a “blue shift” in King County looks like. I’m sure I’m as impressed as you are.

Remote learning has been hard for many students

This is a problem that I don’t think we’re prepared to deal with.

Students across Greater Houston failed classes at unprecendented rates in the first marking period, with some districts reporting nearly half of their middle and high schoolers received at least two F grades because they routinely missed classes or neglected assignments.

The percentage of students failing at least one class has doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in several of the region’s largest school districts, education administrators reported in recent days, a reflection of the massive upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

If those trends keep up, districts expect to see a decline in graduation rates, an increase in summer school demand and a need for intensive support to accommodate students falling behind, among numerous other consequences.

“Our internal failure rates — not (standardized) tests, just our teachers teaching, grading, assessing kids — are like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers, who reported nearly half of his students failed at least one class to start the school year.

“I’ve told our teachers to use the same professional judgment you’ve always used, but I don’t want our standards lowered. We’re not creating these false narratives that you’re doing OK and let someone move on without being competent in the area we’re teaching.”

The failure rates illustrate the monumental challenge faced by students, families and school districts trying to navigate the pandemic while remaining engaged in learning.

[…]

Local education leaders are hopeful the performance trend reverses before the end of the first semester, when high school students’ grades become official for transcript purposes. They noted more students are returning to in-person classes or growing comfortable with completing work online.

If failure rates remain high, however, the impact could be long-lasting for students and districts.

Educators fear the pandemic will widen graduation and college acceptance disparities between children from lower-income and higher-income families. Districts in less affluent areas of Houston generally saw more students remain in online classes, where failing grades were more prevalent.

“We’re going to have to be mapping things out for how to use every minute of remediation, thinking about a two- to three-year span for getting kids back on course,” Aldine Chief Academic Officer Todd Davis said.

Districts could add summer school courses in the coming years to help students make up for failing grades, but the cost of those programs already worries some school leaders. Texas legislators and education officials have not pledged to allocate additional funding for summer school ahead of next year’s legislative session.

“Those extra courses that students normally take — for us, it’s called ‘credit recovery’ — that we pay for now, we would have to start charging for services,” Lathan said. “I know some school districts do it now, but based on our district, it’s hard to charge.”

Chambers, the Alief ISD superintendent, said high failure rates also could upend staffing schedules in some schools, requiring more sessions of courses that students must pass to graduate.

“We’re going to have to probably double staff algebra classes and all those freshman courses, because we’re going to have twice as many kids that failed or didn’t complete the course,” Chambers said.

I’ve left a lot out, so go read the whole thing. Maybe things will get a little better as more students acclimate to remote learning, and others go back to the classroom. But unless it more or less entirely reverses, we’re going to be left with the choice of spending a lot of money to get these kids back up to grade level, so they can graduate and hope to lead lives that aren’t economically compromised, or we can just let them fail and leave it to our kids and future selves to deal with the consequences. I know what I’d want to do, but I don’t know that I expect Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick to be with me. What is clear is that this is our choice. The Trib has more.

The entire NCAA men’s tournament in one place

If we’re able to have an NCAA basketball season at all, then something like this makes some sense.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee announced today the relocation of 13 predetermined preliminary round sites for the 2021 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

In recent weeks, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee has engaged in a thorough contingency planning process to determine the most effective way to conduct a safe and healthy March Madness for all participants for the 2021 championship. Through these discussions, it became apparent to the committee that conducting the championship at 13 preliminary round sites spread throughout the country would be very difficult to execute in the current pandemic environment. The committee has decided the championship should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event.

As a result, NCAA staff are in preliminary talks with the State of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis to potentially host the 68-team tournament around the metropolitan area during the coordinated dates in March and April. Indianapolis was already slated to host the Men’s Final Four from April 3-5, 2021.

“My committee colleagues and I did not come lightly to the difficult decision to relocate the preliminary rounds of the 2021 tournament, as we understand the disappointment 13 communities will feel to miss out on being part of March Madness next year,” said Mitch Barnhart, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and University of Kentucky athletics director. “With the University of Kentucky slated to host first- and second-round games in March, this is something that directly impacts our school and community, so we certainly share in their regret. The committee and staff deeply appreciate the efforts of all the host institutions and conferences, and we look forward to bringing the tournament back to the impacted sites in future years.”

The committee emphasized the importance of conducting the championship in a manageable geographic area that limits travel and provides a safe and controlled environment with competition and practice venues, medical resources and lodging for teams and officials all within proximity of one another.

“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball. “However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”

Basically, this is a bigger version of the NBA playoff bubble. If you scroll down at the link, you’ll see there were 13 other locations that would be involved if nothing changes – Dayton for the First Four, then eight first and second round locations, plus four regional final locations. (Dallas is an opening rounds, the only Texas city on the list.) You can eliminate a lot of travel by consolidating down to one location, but it’s a much bigger logistical challenge because there will be so many teams present, even if (sadly) it won’t be all of them.

Now again, all this assume there will be an NCAA men’s basketball season. (This story is about the men’s tournament committee – I have to assume that if they go this route, the women’s tournament committee will at least consider following suit.) As we’ve discussed before, while basketball involves fewer people per team than football, at least football can be played outside. NCAA hoops would be going on right now in a normal year, and no one can say when or if the regular season will start, though I’m sure the current plan is for January, with a shortened conference-only schedule. The issue of crowds (short answer: hell no) will have to be addressed, and of course the certainty of players and coaches and other personnel testing positive will wreak havoc. I want to believe we’ll be able to have March Madness in 2021, that we’ll be at a point where it’s reasonably safe to do so. But we sure have a long way to go to get there.