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September 11th, 2022:

Weekend link dump for September 11

“This case is to Medicaid what Dobbs was to abortion.”

“The world could create more sustainable batteries with an unusual source: crustaceans. In a paper published this week in the journal Matter, researchers say they have made a biodegradable battery with a substance found in crab and lobster shells.”

So where is Times Square, anyway?

“I regret that the heads and bodies of police officers got in the way of your truncheons and flagpoles while you were engaging in Legitimate Political Discourse at the Capitol. I hope that you didn’t hurt your fingers while gouging their eyes, and that their blood didn’t stain your tactical assault gear; if it did, please send me the dry-cleaning bill! I am so sorry that, on your Normal Tourist Visit, you didn’t get to use your noose or all the guns stockpiled at the Comfort Inn in Alexandria. Please forgive me for previously quibbling with your plan to “hang Mike Pence” and your use of the Confederate flag in the halls of Congress. I apologize that you had to break windows and doors, climb scaffolding and rappel into the Senate chamber. My bad! Next time you want to overthrow an American election, just knock.”

“In recent research, I studied how Americans’ perceptions of their own political knowledge shape their political attitudes. My results show that many Americans think they know much more about politics than they really do.”

“The Human Psyche Was Not Built for This”.

I’m somewhat lukewarm on ranked choice voting, but whatever you think about it, RCV isn’t the reason Democrat Mary Peltola won that special election in Alaska for Congress. The many flaws and foibles of a certain former Governor of Alaska is a much bigger reason for that. Also, Rep.-elect Mary Peltola ran a great campaign.

“Donald Trump once tried to pay a lawyer with a horse“. I mean sure, why not?

Ken Levine signs off as a blogger.

Turns out, participating in an insurrection does have some consequences. Who knew?

“There are too many things wrong with the Cannon order to litigate. And there are too many things wrong with Trump’s judicial dominion of every part of our lives— for years to come—to litigate. So maybe it’s time to stop litigating them and start fixing them.”

Lock him up.

Make them pay.

You will never be able to unsee this picture. That shouldn’t stop you from clicking, but be warned.

“Micky Dolenz, best known as the vocalist and drummer for the iconic 1960s pop group The Monkees, is suing the FBI over recently released files that indicate the agency was monitoring the group.” Really, FBI. You should have known they were just monkeying around.

RIP, Peter Straub, horror novelist best known for The Talisman, which he co-wrote with Stephen King. This Twitter thread in tribute from his daughter Emma Straub, also an author, is awesome.

RIP, Anne Garrels, longtime NPR foreign correspondent. Listen to her 2007 appearance on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, she was delightful.

RIP, Bernard Shaw, CNN’s lead anchor for 20 years.

RIP, Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest serving monarch.

Lock them up.

“Response to most of what Joe Biden has done since taking office has followed a predictable reaction-curve”.

Coulda Been Worse

Are you ready for some attack ads?

A shadowy new group has purchased at least $6 million in TV ads ahead of the November election and is airing an ad that targets Gov. Greg Abbott as he runs for reelection.

The minute-long ad from Coulda Been Worse LLC, which started airing Friday, rattles off a list of major calamitous events that have happened on Abbott’s watch, like the Uvalde school shooting and 2021 power-grid collapse. As the narrator speaks, a picture slowly zooms out to show Abbott’s face.

“Any one of these — a terrible shame for Texas,” the narrator says at the end. “All of these — a horrific sign something big is terribly, terribly wrong.”

The spot ends with a clip of Abbott saying after the Uvalde massacre that it “could have been worse,” increasingly a rallying cry of Abbott’s critics. Abbott made the comment while praising the law enforcement response to the shooting, which has since been been widely criticized for taking well over an hour to confront the shooter. Abbott later said he was “misled” when he made the comment.

The advertising represents a significant escalation as Abbott fights for a third term against Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. Abbott has led O’Rourke by mid-single digits in polls throughout the summer.

Here’s the ad, which I can’t find right now on YouTube in part because there’s a song called “Coulda Been Worse” and in part because there’s a ton of video clips of Abbott’s original “could have been worse” quote.

60-second ads always feel interminable to me, but I’m not sure how you cut this one down. I mostly encounter ads like this when I watch sports – the college and NFL football seasons are just rife with this stuff, especially in even-numbered years – so I’ll be interested to see how often I encounter it. What’s your reaction?

National support for abortion rights on the rise

It’s pretty high in this poll.

Voters have grown more supportive of legalizing abortion following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, with a clear majority opposing restrictions, like bans at a certain point of pregnancy or barring women from traveling to get a legal abortion, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll that underscores the importance of the issue in the midterm elections.

According to the survey, 60% of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 55% in March. Another 29% said it should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is endangered, compared with 30% in March. And 6% said it should be illegal in all cases, down from 11% in March.

The court’s decision to end federal constitutional protections for the procedure has injected new Democratic energy into a midterm election that Republicans expected to be dominated by economic issues. About a dozen states have banned many or most abortions since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Abortion is not an issue that most people, prior to Dobbs, spent a lot of time thinking about,” said Democratic pollster Molly Murphy, whose firm conducted the poll with Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio. “What Dobbs has done is one, we’ve had a national conversation about it. Two, it has gone from hypothetical to real.”

More than half of voters said the ruling made them more motivated to vote in the midterm elections.

Asked broadly about their top issue for the midterms, voters cited the economy and inflation first, followed by abortion. But when offered a choice of five issues and asked which made them most likely to vote, they put the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade ahead of inflation.

Among those who named the court ruling as the most important issue tested against others, 77% were Democrats, 8% were Republicans and 9% were independents.

[…]

Support for abortion in most or all cases rose among Catholics to 59%, up from 45% in March. Support from Black voters was at 69%, up from 59%. College-educated women moved to 76% in support, up from 65%.

“It’s definitely a motivator,” said Elizabeth Schoenknecht, 46, of Hudson, Wis., who is a registered Democrat and works in philanthropy. “It’s heartbreaking to see the reality come to fruition.”

Among Democrats, 92% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 6% said it should be illegal except in some cases, such as rape, incest, and when the woman’s life is endangered, and 1% said it should be illegal in all cases. A total of 59% of independents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 26% said illegal except in limited cases and 7% illegal in all cases.

With Republicans, 27% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 56% said it should illegal except in limited cases and 11% said it should be illegal in all cases.

“The truth of the matter is even among Republicans there isn’t a clear consensus. They want restrictions, the question is what restrictions and how far should they go,” said Mr. Fabrizio, the GOP pollster.

The poll also showed clear opposition to the types of abortion restrictions being enacted or discussed in some states. A total of 62% opposed an abortion ban at 6 weeks of pregnancy that only included an exception for the health of the mother, and 57% opposed a ban at 15 weeks with an exception only for the health of the mother. The survey said 77% opposed banning women who live in states where abortion is illegal from traveling to other states to get an abortion. And 81% were against banning all abortions.

Consider this a companion to that poll about abortion attitudes in Texas. It makes sense that state polls would be directionally in line with national polls, but the state poll was from June and as I said appeared to me to be if nothing else ahead of its time. We also don’t know what the question wording was in this poll. I also note that while the story listed attitudinal shifts among several subgroups, it didn’t include Latinos among them, which could mean any number of things. I find all of this more suggestive than conclusive, but moving the want I want it to. I just don’t know yet what I think about how much of an effect it may have in November.

The slow but steady march of Houston’s non-car transportation infrastructure

Good story.

When he arrived in Houston two years ago, what David Fields saw belied what he had heard.

The nation’s fourth-largest city has long been known as car-centric and geared toward commuting, with a web of wide freeways that stretch from the heart of town to the far-flung suburbs. Driving, and fighting rush-hour traffic, could be considered part of Houston’s culture.

But Fields, a native New Yorker who also worked in the San Francisco area before taking a job as Houston’s chief transportation planner, saw a city in flux in terms of how its residents get around. Public transit options have expanded in recent years, and so has Houston’s network of sidewalks and hike-and-bike trails.

Fields, who has lived in the Heights and Montrose areas and works downtown, said last week he has yet to drive to his office, instead relying on buses and occasionally his bicycle.

“I think Houston has a reputation because it grew up around the car for many years, but the reality on the ground is not the historic reputation,” he said. “I did not realize how much was going on here until I got to spend some time.”

Although highway expansion continues in the region and driving remains the primary mode of transportation for most Houston-area residents, the city continues to inch away from its reliance on personal cars and trucks while expanding its infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians and mass transit users. The idea, according to Fields, is to make the city safer, to more adequately accommodate more residents and their preferred transportation options and also to combat climate change.

The city recently was awarded a $21 million federal grant for a transformative project on a 3-mile stretch of Telephone Road in the southeast part of town, where vehicle lanes will be reduced while bike lanes, wider sidewalks and improved connections with METRO – the region’s public transit provider – will be added. Similar projects have been completed in recent years on Austin Street in the Midtown area and Kelley Street on the north side, and many more are underway or in the pipeline.

A federal grant also is buoying an infrastructure project along Shepherd and Durham drives in the Heights area that calls for fewer vehicle lanes and an expanded pedestrian realm, and the city is doing much the same on a stretch of West 11th Street. Among the projects in the works at METRO, for which voters approved a $3.5 billion bond in 2019, is a 25-mile University Line that will stretch across the southern and eastern parts of town while connecting three universities.

Many of those projects have come to light under the administration of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was elected in 2015. Fields said the city has added 400 miles of bike lanes under the Houston Bike Plan, adopted by the city council in 2017, and meeting the needs of non-drivers is now part of the planning for every infrastructure initiative.

“The mayor has said over and over again we are in a transportation paradigm shift, which means moving people by all the different modes, making it safer for all the different modes and really rethinking our right-of-way space,” Fields said. “I can’t imagine any project the city is leading that is not looked at through a multimodal lens.”

[…]

Houston also is grappling with long-held perceptions and attitudes about how to get around the city and how its transportation resources should be invested. Fields said residents have expressed reservations about projects that will increase drive times and require prolonged construction – even if the tradeoff is improved safety – while Cutrufo said opponents of expanded cycling infrastructure often point to the city’s low number of bike riders compared to car drivers.

But [Joe] Cutrufo, whose BikeHouston organization has about 12,000 members, said Houston is “overbuilt for car traffic” and doesn’t require the lane capacity that exists on its roads. So there is plenty of space, he said, to accommodate those who prefer alternative modes of transportation.

“Nobody’s taking away your option to drive,” Cutrufo said of lane-reduction projects such as the ones in the Heights and on Telephone Road. “We’re gaining so much more than we’re losing. We’re not just gaining some space on a specific corridor that had to be quote-unquote taken away from drivers. We’re gaining a significant transportation option that we didn’t have before without losing the option to drive.”

It’s a long story, so go read the rest. Among other things, it name-checks the new bike bridges story, with the West 11th Street project implicitly included. Couple points to mention here. One is that the increased density of the greater Heights/Washington/Rice Military/Memorial areas is really only feasible with this kind of increased bike-and-pedestrian infrastructure. Both in terms of street traffic and parking space, you really want to encourage people who can get around these areas via walking or biking to do so, because there just isn’t the literal space for everyone to drive everywhere. This is a subject I’ve talked about before, in the context of increasing parking for bikes. Again, the key thing here is that making it easier for those who can walk or bike to get places really benefits those who have no choice but to drive.

The other thing to note, which gets only a passing mention in this story, is how much Metro has done lately in this space as well, from the big bus route redesign to more bike racks on buses, integrating with B-Cycle, and working to improve sidewalks around bus stops. The redesign of the local bus routes made a huge difference for me when I was working downtown and carpooling with my wife. It was much easier for me to get to and from work when our schedules didn’t overlap, and it was much easier to get to other places as well thanks to the frequent routes. I go downtown less frequently now that I don’t work there, but I rarely drive there when I do need to go. For those of you who rarely if ever take Metro, remember that every time I do, it’s one less car clogging up I-10 or I-45. You’re welcome.

West 11th construction is about to start

Get ready, here it comes.

City staffers are finalizing a plan to add protected bike lanes along 11th Street in the Heights and reduce the number of driving lanes, despite pushback from some residents in the area.

Crews will begin work rehabilitating 11th Street this month, with plans to start construction on the bikeway part of the project in October, said Erin Jones, spokesperson for the city’s public works department.

“The bikeway design is still being finalized to include METRO bus stop improvements/relocations,” she said.

[…]

“When Mayor Turner announced the 11th Street project would move forward after that short pause, he said something that struck me,” said Joe Cutrufo, the director of BikeHouston. “He said that, ‘we’re not building the city for where we are now, but building the city for where we are going.’ And I thought that was really well-phrased.”

Bike lanes will be added on both sides of 11th between North Shepherd Drive and Michaux Street, where there will be one vehicular lane in each direction with a center, left-turn lane along the stretch between Yale and Studewood streets. The plan also calls for bike lanes along Michaux between 11th and Stude Park to the south as well as protected crossings for pedestrians and cyclists at intersections such as 11th and Nicholson Street, where the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail crosses 11th, and Michaux and White Oak Drive.

There now are two vehicle lanes in each direction on 11th between Shepherd and Michaux, and no center turn lanes.

The project will cost about $600,000, with funding coming from capital improvement dollars for bikeways, according to the city.

See here, here, and here for some background. I fully support this and I am excited to see what the finished project looks like. I also recognize that the construction will be inconvenient, and it will directly affect me. Like most people in this neighborhood, I regularly drive all of those named streets. The carpool we have for getting Daughter #2 to and from high school also involves taking on kid home north of Garden Oaks, for which I take Shepherd already under construction) via 11th. It’s going to suck for awhile, no two ways around it. But hey, I’ve survived more highway renovations than I can count. I will survive this, too. And in the end, the neighborhood will be a better place. Let’s do this.