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July 1st, 2008:

“Staff error”

Once you’ve been shown to be a sock puppet, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that you’ve always been a sock puppet.

Yesterday, Burnt Orange Report unmasked prolific commenter “Buck Smith” as actually being Dave Beckwith, a Cornyn staffer who evidently splits his time between working in Cornyn’s federal Senate office and on the Cornyn campaign. The Cornyn campaign has defended Beckwith, saying he is simply doing the same thing everyone else on blogs is doing, although having a legitimate reason for using a pseudonym is a bit different than using one because you are a paid political operative.

Beckwith, however, didn’t just comment at one or two blogs (Burnt Orange Report and DailyKOS being two most people are aware of). In fact, he trolled sites belonging to mainstream media outlets, and sockpuppeted across nearly a dozen Texas-based and national blogs.

According to Vince’s research, Beckwith/Buck Smith has been visiting blogs since 2005. Old habits die hard, apparently. One of the things he said in that latter thread certainly rings true:

Many political mistakes are blamed on staff error. But sometimes the fault lies with — staff error.

That’s certainly a concept with which he’s familiar. I wonder, would shilling for a raise while using one’s alter ego count as an error? Gotta admit, that does show initiative, so maybe not. More to come soon, I’m sure.

Steroids in the schools

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring high school athletes be randomly tested for steroids. Turns out this isn’t much of a problem.

Only two athletes tested positive for steroid use among some 10,000 Texas high school students tested this spring, raising doubts about whether state lawmakers will renew the $3 million-a-year project at current levels.

The testing company’s preliminary results are based on an estimated 10,407 students who were tested since February, when state officials launched the random steroid-testing program mandated by state lawmakers. National Center for Drug Free Sport is expected to release a formal report later this summer.

Both supporters and critics of the testing program — the largest among high schools in the country — said the results validate their positions.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Monday he was pleased with the cursory results.

“I pushed this important legislation through the Legislature because I knew it would deter our young people from wrecking their bodies and putting their lives at risk by using illegal steroids,” Dewhurst said. “And these test results clearly show the deterrent is working because young people know they can’t use illegal steroids without getting caught.”

But Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, one of seven state lawmakers to vote against the steroid-testing program, wants it abolished. There are 181 members in the Texas Legislature.

“This is one of those issues that sounds good but has no real impact except wasting taxpayer dollars,” Patrick said. “I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of steroids, but you can’t take a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. Spending $1.5 million per kid is ludicrous.”

I agree with Sen. Patrick. There’s no possible way that this is a responsible use of public resources. I didn’t pay attention to this issue last session, as there were so many other higher-priority matters, but I’ll be watching it this time. Anyone who wants to argue in favor of renewing this program in 2009 is going to have to explain how it could be worth the cost.

As for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s blithe assertion that the random tests must have served as a deterrent, how do we know anyone was using before this year? Maybe this was never a problem all along. And you have to admire Dewhurst’s logic, which no doubt would have applied regardless of the outcome. If we have no steroid problem, the testing program works because it’s a deterrent. If we did have a steroid problem, the testing program works because clearly we needed to know what kind of a problem we have. Nifty, isn’t it?

Almost as nifty as this:

[Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, House sponsor for the steroid legislation,] did not flinch at the $1.5 million cost per positive test result, noting the price tag would be immaterial “if that’s your kid.”

And if we’d passed a $3 million bill to help kids pass the TAKS test but only 2 of the 10,000 kids it applied to did actually pass it, would it still be worth the $1.5 million cost per positive test result “if that’s your kid”? I’m thinking the answer Rep. Flynn would give in that case would be “no”.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, agreed that schools should ramp up educational warnings about steroid use. But she voted against the testing program last year and hopes it fizzles out in the next legislative session.

“I thought the whole concept was absolutely silly,” she said. “We should focus on education … The money needs to be better utilized in preparing our kids for Texas’ global economy.”

Somebody slap me, I’m agreeing with Dan Patrick and Debbie Riddle in the same blog post. I realize she’s being completely insincere about the need to “focus on education”, but I’m going to clip and save this quote for next year anyway, because I’m sure it’ll come in handy at some point. Grits has more.

TexBlog PAC Endorses Sherrie Matula

Vince has the writeup on TexBlog PAC‘s endorsement of Sherrie Matula at last Thursday’s fundraiser.

Matula’s race represents one of those races that a lot of folks in the “bricks and mortar political establishment” may have underestimated in the early part of this year. However, this district is ripe for a flip. Matula laid the groundwork for this year’s campaign with a respectable general election showing in 2006 and her “Apple Corps” team of volunteers and on-the-ground activists has worked very hard this year to register new voters, identify Democratic voters in the district, and conducting GOTV.

This race, however, is one where the Netroots have consistently seen the potential for defeating incumbent John Davis (a legislator who Texas Monthly appropriately deemed “furniture”) and the value in Matula’s traditional and online campaign operations.

Click over to read the rest. I’ve said before that Matula ran a great campaign in 2006 on a shoestring; this year, with much better funding, more experience, and a stronger Democratic trend overall, she is in a good position to win in a district that nobody would have pegged as competitive as recently as 2004, when Rep. Davis ran unopposed. You can help Sherrie and help us help her make that happen.

Why arrest the bosses when you can arrest the workers?

This is one of many reasons why the current crackdown on undocumented immigrants is such a sham.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are staging dramatic raids across the country that routinely seize hundreds of undocumented workers at their jobs — and leave their employers free to work another day.

The appearance of separate justice that arose during federal authorities’ surprise morning raid at Action Rags USA on Houston’s east side fits a nationwide pattern.

Many of the 166 workers taken into custody on suspected immigration charges in Houston last week were paraded toward vans to be transported into detention. But immigration authorities spared company officials both immediate arrest and the embarrassing “perp walk” that exposed those arrested to news photographers.

“Once again the federal government has it backwards,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, a former state judge and prosecutor. “It is a waste of time if we don’t go after the business owners who are knowingly hiring illegals.

“If we eliminate the illegal job opportunities, we can start to eliminate the problem.”

No dount unwittingly, Rep. Poe has correctly identified the problem. Unfortunately, his preferred solution, which is to crack down even harder on places like Action Rags USA while hermetically sealing the southern border, is simultaneously cruel, unworkable, and hideously expensive. That’s because this approach completely defies the laws of supply and demand. This is rather ironic, given the fealty that folks like Rep. Poe swear to free-market economic principles in just about every other context. I guess the immigration debate has its own logic, and the power to trump such things as needed. Which is too bad, because in principle, I agree with him: The problem is too many illegal job opportunities. It’s just a shame he’s incapable of taking the next step towards a solution that might actually work.

Bob Curl to retire at Rice

Rice University chemistry professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Curl is retiring from the classroom today.

Robert Curl never sought the limelight that accompanied the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he won a dozen years ago.

In his quiet way, Curl simply went on teaching, thinking, experimenting and riding his bicycle to Rice University.

Now, after 50 years at Rice, Curl plans to retire Tuesday. With a hint of a smile, Curl, 74, says he doesn’t want to turn into “one of these people who hangs on so long that they have become a blithering idiot.”

Curl shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Rice’s Rick Smalley and a British scientist, Harold Kroto. They discovered a unique form of carbon in which 60 atoms are clustered neatly into a tiny, soccer-shaped ball. They christened their finding a buckyball — or fullerene — after Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic designs the molecules resemble.

The discovery heralded the dawn of nanotechnology, the science of building very small materials with unique properties.


Like many leading scientists of his age, Curl’s passion for research dates to a childhood Christmas, when his parents bought him a chemistry set. Soon, the 9-year-old was mixing chemicals, making gunpowder and blowing things up.

In one memorable event, some nitric acid boiled over onto his mother’s porcelain stove, eating away the fine finish. His mother never forgave him, he said, but Curl was hooked on chemistry.

“It was not scientific at all,” he said, “but it was sure fun.”

In case you every wondered what the appeal of shows like “Mythbusters” is, that would be it in a nutshell.

Rice’s current president, David Leebron, echoes the sentiment: “On top of all the achievement, Bob is one of the kindest and most generous people I know.”

Those qualities made Curl a good mentor. He gave brilliant and not-as-brilliant graduate students the same attention and respect, colleagues said.


Curl and Smalley believed they could approximate the conditions of dying stars, which are rich in carbon, by using lasers to blast a chunk of graphite. At the time, graphite and diamonds were the two known forms of carbon. The scientists hoped to create the long carbon chains seen in interstellar space.

Instead, when they pored over the collected data, they found a blip that turned out to be a spectacular, third form of carbon.

“Our buckyball discovery was a complete piece of serendipity and totally unexpected,” Curl said.

“It’s kind of embarrassing. Reporters asked us, ‘Tell us how you made this great discovery.’ Well, it was a stroke of luck. The only credit you can claim is not ignoring your stroke of luck.”

I never had Curl as a professor, since I was only a grad student at Rice, in the math department, but I know him through the tournament bridge scene, where he’s been a fixture for longer than I have. I figure this means he’ll have more time to play the game, which will be good for everyone. Best of luck in retirement, Professor!

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 30

It’s Fourth of July week, and that means it’s time for fireworks, barbecue, and some good blogging from the Texas Progressive Alliance. Click on to get a heaping plateful of the week’s highlights.