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November 28th, 2021:

Weekend link dump for November 28

“The endless disappointment is painful to the character of Logan. The fact that the boys and the girls, they can’t see the game. It’s a game, but like all games, even when it’s a matter of life and death, it’s still a game. And they can’t see it.”

It’s a little hard to imagine not having Sex and the City, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Wire in the top five of your “best HBO shows” list, but then I guess that’s a testament to how deep the list is.

“The inescapable conclusion is that if this Republican Party wins back control of even one house of Congress, they will grind governing to a halt — and that, if they win the presidency again, democracy as we know it may well no longer exist.”

“Scientists have evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads explosively in white-tailed deer and that the virus is widespread in this deer population across the United States. Researchers say the findings are quite concerning and could have vast implications for the long-term course of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We hold Congresswoman Boebert to a far lower standard. If we held her to the same standard as every other elected Republican and Democrat in Colorado – we’d be here nearly nightly chronicling the cruel, false, and bigoted things she says for attention and fundraising. This is not about politics, if politics is still about things like taxes, national security, health care, jobs, and public lands. This is about us as journalists recognizing that we’ll hold a politician accountable if they say something vile once, but not if they do it every day. Our double standard is unfair to all the elected officials in Colorado – Republicans and Democrats – who display human decency.”

“Fundamentally, I hope people learn to understand what people are buying when purchasing NFT art right now is nothing more than directions on how to access or download an image. The image is not stored on the blockchain and the majority of images I’ve seen are hosted on web 2.0 storage, which is likely to end up as 404, meaning the NFT has even less value.”

“Billingsley has just won the Reuben Award for outstanding cartoonist of the year. It is the 75th year of the National Cartoonists Society’s peer-voted prize — whose legendary recipients include Charles Schulz, Matt Groening, Rube Goldberg and Roz Chast — but 2021 marks the first time that it has been won by a Black creator, according to comics historians.” How it is that Morrie Turner didn’t win one, I have no idea.

“Despite all the talk about burnout and reevaluating priorities, the soaring quits rate has little to do with white-collar jobs. It’s more about lower-income people getting the chance to move up.”

“Indeed, the high quit rate is a red herring for understanding the sluggish return of workers to the US labor market following the COVID-19 pandemic, in our view. Instead, the true cause is a hesitation of workers to return to the labor force, due to influences tied to the pandemic such as infection risks, infection-related illness, and a lack of affordable childcare.”

RIP, Doug Jones, former All Star closer for the Astros.

“Executives are seizing a once in a generation opportunity to raise prices to match and in some cases outpace their own higher expenses, after decades of grinding down costs and prices.”

Bankrupt them. All of them.

RIP, Bill Virdon, former MLB player and manager of the Pirates, Yankees, Astros, and Expos.

You may not have known that you needed to see a video of Count von Count singing a Violent Femmes song, but you did. You’re welcome.

Lock them up.

“Everyone keeps talking about covid becoming endemic, but as I listen to the conversation, it’s becoming more & more clear to me that very few of you know what “endemic” means. So here’s a thread on how pandemics end.”

RIP, Stephen Sondheim, legendary Broadway composer and lyricist.

RIP, Curley Culp, Hall of Fame nose tackle for the KC Chiefs and Houston Oilers.

Cracking Asian-American communities

The Trib explores what the new Congressional maps did to Asian-American communities, mostly but not exclusively in the Houston area.

When Texas lawmakers redrew congressional maps following the 2020 census, they split up Asian American populations in both Harris and Fort Bend counties.

One district line, winding between a local car wash and bar, severs most of the Korean neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants and a senior center from the community center itself, which now hangs on the edge of one congressional district while most of its members reside in the next district over.

“It’s like (lawmakers) don’t even know we are here,” said Hyunja Norman, president of the Korean American Voters League, who works out of the center. “If they were thoughtful, they could’ve included the Korean Community Center in (our district). But it’s like they are ignorant of us, or they just don’t care.”

As the Asian American and Pacific Islander population has grown and continued to mobilize politically, especially in the midst of rising hostility and targeted attacks, the community’s desire for representation in Texas and U.S. politics has become stronger. But many now feel their political aspirations became collateral damage in Republican efforts to draw political districts designed to preserve partisan power.

Although they make up only about 5% of Texas’ total population, Asian Texans accounted for a sizable portion of the state’s tremendous growth over the past decade. Nearly one in five new Texans since 2010 are Asian American, according to the census. They were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting group in the state, increasing from a population of about 950,000 in 2010 to nearly 1.6 million in 2020.

[…]

In Fort Bend County — which has ranked as the most diverse county in the country multiple times — Lily Trieu’s parents grew scared of even routine errands like grocery shopping or filling their gas tanks. They were afraid to wear masks in public.

And when Asian Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution condemning the Atlanta shootings, almost every Texas Republican voted against it, including Fort Bend County’s U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls.

“This is why representation matters,” Trieu told Texas lawmakers when she testified at redistricting hearings. “This is why splitting our community to dilute our votes is directly denying our opportunity to receive that representation.”

[…]

Previously, more than 9% and 11% of the eligible voter populations in CD-7 and CD-9, respectively, were Asian American. But under the approved plans, CD-7 would increase to 17% Asian American population, covering Houston suburbs, while CD-9 would decrease to 9% Asian population — shifting the majority into one district and lessening its power in another.

A majority of the Asian American population in the suburbs also got redrawn into CD-22, a mostly rural district, decreasing its percentage of the Asian population from more than 15% to 10%.

CD-22 also now includes all of Sugar Land, which is the most Asian town in Texas.

Similar manipulations took place around Dallas. In Collin County, lawmakers approved a map for CD-4 that takes most of the Asian community across Frisco and Plano and attaches it to a district stretching north to the Oklahoma border.

Asian American voters, who would have made up 10.8% of the vote in their old district, comprise just 5.6% of their new one.

Chanda Parbhoo, president of South Asian American Voter Empowerment of Texas, said she had organizations members — mostly from Collin County — submit almost 50 written testimonies against the proposed maps during redistricting hearings.

It still didn’t feel like it was enough, Parbhoo said.

“It makes it really difficult for the (South Asian) community, an emerging political entity, that we haven’t had years of experience (with redistricting),” Parbhoo said. “As soon as a map comes out, then I’ll have to try to explain it to my community, like, ‘This is what’s not fair. These are the numbers.’ Everything moves so fast that the process doesn’t really allow for people to absorb it and to be able to ask questions.”

Ashley Cheng, lead organizer of the Texas AAPI Redistricting Coalition, also testified multiple times as lawmakers redrew voting districts and said the community has various issues at stake that a continued loss of representation will exacerbate.

Cheng said translating documents for Asian American voters is vital for the community to participate in voting. She said during the winter storm, many emergency alerts were only in English and Cheng’s mother, who does not fluently speak English, was left without information at her house.

“We are in a time of history where we’re really rising up as a community and making sure that our political voices are heard,” Cheng said. “Part of that is because our lives are being threatened. There’s been a heightened sense of Islamophobia in the last few years, heightened anti-Asian hate because of all of the political rhetoric around COVID. We have so much in common in a need for representation.”

Those Asian-American communities that are now stuck in CD04 had previously been in CD03, which even after redistricting is becoming more Democratic but which has been moved backwards in the process. The most recent lawsuit filed against the redistricting plans, which has now been combined with most of the other lawsuits, had a focus on Asian-American communities and concerns, though as this story notes the courts have not previously recognized Asian-Americans as a minority population in need of protection at the voting booth. I doubt that will change now, but all you can do is try.

COVID hospitalizations are (generally) down in (most of) Texas

For now. I think you always have to add “for now” to this sort of thing.

As Texans head into the holiday season, there is much to celebrate when it comes to addressing the pandemic. But health experts say the state is not out of the woods just yet.

First, the good news. The number of residents here hospitalized with COVID-19 is at one of its lowest points since the beginning of the pandemic, while average daily deaths from the virus are also dropping and vaccines are finally — after a year of parents anxiously waiting for approval — flowing into the arms of the state’s elementary age children.

After a miserable summer when the delta variant caused a surge that rivaled the worst moments of the coronavirus pandemic, state health officials and experts say they are grateful for signs of relief. But they’re wary of being too optimistic about a pandemic that has, more than once, had this state in a stranglehold.

“People are just kind of happy or relieved that the most recent surge is done with, but I don’t think anybody’s celebrating anything yet,” said Dr. James Castillo, public health authority in Cameron County. In that county, the share of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients has dropped to 3% percent, down from over 25% during the summer surge.

Still, health officials are now watching a recent increase in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases and a small uptick in the rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive as potential warning signs.

They’re also keeping an eye on a troubling new surge in the nation’s Western states that has hit El Paso, a region that was spared the deadly delta surge that rocked the rest of the state in August and September.

“We’re certainly in a better place right now than we have been in quite a while,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But we are sort of starting to see things change again. And you know, if there’s one thing we know about this pandemic, it’s that it’s going to keep changing.”

[…]

Every day of good news, it seems, carries with it a note of caution.

At highest risk, officials say, are the millions of Texans who have not been vaccinated. During the month of September, at the height of the surge when about half of Texans had been fully vaccinated, unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to die from the virus than those who had been vaccinated.

What that means, scientists say, is that a surge among the unvaccinated could still happen.

“Overall, our projections right now are fairly optimistic for the state of Texas,” said Spencer Fox, associate director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “But when we look at the winter, we’re still fairly concerned about what might happen in the future. … Our models suggest that there’s still enough susceptibility in our population to see another pandemic surge if we remove all precautions. I think Thanksgiving will be a lead indicator of what’s to come.”

As one of the graphics in this story shows, only 54.3% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. So yeah, there’s a huge reservoir of vulnerable targets for the virus. And all of this is before we consider the possibility of new variants reaching our shores. If you’re fully vaxxed, you’re as safe as you’re going to be, but the old standbys of wearing masks and avoiding crowded indoor spaces are still in vogue. Don’t let your guard down.

We’re still vulnerable to blackouts

So says ERCOT.

Electricity outages in Texas could occur this winter if the state experiences a cold snap that forces many power plants offline at the same time as demand for power is high, according to an analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The outages could occur despite better preparations by power plants to operate in cold weather.

Heading into the winter, ERCOT considered five extreme scenarios in a risk assessment of the state’s power supply. The grid operator estimates both how much electricity Texans are expected to demand and how much electricity power plants are expected to produce ahead of each season.

Following the widespread February power outages that left millions without electricity for several days, ERCOT changed those assessments to calculate what would happen if extreme conditions occurred simultaneously — like what happened this year.

The calculations show the power grid’s vulnerability to the cumulative impact of multiple pressures that could leave the system short of a significant amount of power. Power grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas’ grid falls below its safety margin of 2,300 megawatts of extra supply, ERCOT, the grid operator, starts taking additional precautions to avoid blackouts, such as asking residents to conserve power.

The calculations for severe risk this winter show that it wouldn’t take a storm as bad as the one in February, when hundreds of people died, to take the grid offline.

[…]

“We’ve had years of poor planning of peak [demand] by ERCOT,” said Alison Silverstein, an expert on Texas’ electricity system who formerly worked at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas. She spoke during a public event hosted by the environmental group the Sierra Club on Saturday. “ERCOT’s power market has historically been managed to minimize costs, not to assure excellent reliability.”

Four of the five extreme risk scenarios ERCOT considered would leave the grid short a significant amount of power, which would trigger outages for residents.

The extreme scenarios have a low chance of occurring, ERCOT emphasizes in its report, and the grid operator estimates more power generation will be available than last winter.

Under typical winter grid conditions, the ERCOT report said, there will be sufficient power available to serve the state.

Well yeah, but if this winter had been typical we wouldn’t have had the massive power failures we did. The point is we did have them. There is a calculation that needs to be done to balance the likelihood of a given event occurring and the bad things that will happen if it does. Not all risks are worth the cost of mitigation, but we do tend to take action against the things that have the biggest downside. House fires are increasingly rare, for a variety of reasons, but we still install smoke detectors and carry insurance against the damage and loss they cause. If we’re not taking all reasonable steps to mitigate against the kind of outage we had this February, we are definitely doing it wrong.