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July 25th, 2010:

Weekend link dump for July 25

Hot enough for ya?

It’s a nice thought, but it ain’t happening any time soon.

We have to go back!

Vegas, baby!

Don’t try this at home, kids.

The Republicans have no ideas. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Yes, please do bring on the Bush nostalgia.

Is an energy bill without cap and trade still worth doing? It could be.

I had not realized how scary and sophisticated the “Conficker” worm is.

We could use more people like Bree Heaberlin.

Those Louisiana Republicans sure are a horny bunch, aren’t they?

Gravel roads are the logical conclusion of tax phobia.

George W. Bush is tanned, rested, and ready for Republican Congressional candidates to call him.

On behalf of everyone who ever lived in New York City, I say screw you, Sarah.

The Penn State problem.

The Randal O’Toole problem.

You should also know them by a more accurate name, which would be “a bunch of lying liars”.

RIP, Ralph Houk, the first Yankee manager I can remember from my childhood. Steven Goldman remembers more.

Sue, Shirley, sue! Also, what Josh says. If we lived in a just society, Andrew Breitbart would now be a pariah. At the very least, one hopes that nobody in the so-called “mainstream” media will ever listen to anything he says again.

“Premium privacy”.

Nick Anderson is worth a thousand words.

We’re fixing to run out of IP addresses.

Just how many signs of the apocalypse are there?

As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.

Secession: Not just for Texas Republicans any more. Maybe the new GOP slogan should be “America: Love it AND leave it!”

The public option would save money and reduce the long-term deficit. Which is why we can’t have it. No, I don’t understand that, either.

My sincere condolences to the Cowher family.

So what did the Forensic Science Commission do?

I guess I wasn’t expecting this.

A majority of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has tentatively concluded that there was no professional negligence or misconduct by arson investigators whose flawed work in a fatal Corsicana fire contributed to the conviction and 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

It would be wrong to punish investigators for following commonly held beliefs about fire conditions that are known, in hindsight, to be invalid indicators of arson, said John Bradley, chairman of a four-member panel reviewing Willingham’s case.

“We should hold people accountable based on standards that existed when they were working on these things,” Bradley said during the commission’s quarterly meeting Friday.

All four members of the investigative panel agreed with the preliminary finding, which was reached during two meetings that were closed to the public, said Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of the Sam Houston State University crime lab in Huntsville.

“The panel unanimously felt the science was flawed by today’s standards, but the question for us was, was there professional negligence or misconduct?” Kerrigan said, adding that scientific arson standards — though adopted nationally in 1992, the year Willingham was convicted — had not filtered down to the front-line investigators in Texas.

I must have lost the thread of this whole saga awhile back, because as I write this I’m not really sure I know what I was expecting to come out of this. I knew the question of Cameron Todd Willingham’s innocence wasn’t on the table as it once had been – once Rick Perry and John Bradley squashed Craig Beyler’s testimony, all that was effectively swept under the rug – but the question about whether or not the fire investigators at the time of the Willingham blaze deserved official blame or not wasn’t what I had in mind. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure why that even matters. I suppose what I anticipated was more or less the same as Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project:

Instead of focusing on the fire investigators, Scheck implored commissioners to analyze the state fire marshal’s office , which he said adopted scientifically based standards for determining when a fire is arson yet failed to reinvestigate hundreds of arson convictions obtained from investigations now known to be flawed.

“Was it the fire marshal’s office that engaged in professional neglect or misconduct?” Scheck asked. “Does the (agency) have a duty to correct any past representations that are wrong, that are scientifically invalid?”

In the end, commissioners voted to give Scheck and other interested parties three weeks to submit objections to the proposed finding.

It’s well known that many other arson convictions are based on the same shoddy “science” that got Willingham executed. If there’s no action taken to review those convictions – if the Forensic Science Commission doesn’t force the issue in whatever fashion it can – then I don’t see the point of what they’re doing. I know this wasn’t the original intent behind the creation of the FSC. Time to schedule another committee hearing, Sen. Whitmire. Grits and the Chron has more.

UPDATE: Dave Mann, who has reported extensively on arson forensics, weighs in.

Nikki Araguz

I support Nikki Araguz.

The wife of a Wharton firefighter who died in a massive July 4 blaze decried allegations lodged by her late husband’s family that she is a fraud because she was born a man.

“Really, all I have to say is that I’m absolutely devastated about the loss of my husband, a fallen firefighter named Thomas Araguz III, and horrified at the horrendous allegations accusing me of fraud because they are absolutely not true,” Nikki Araguz said on Thursday. “And that is all I have to say.”

She spoke briefly at the law office of Phyllis Frye, a transgender attorney, who said her six-lawyer firm is poised to fight the family’s lawsuit. Moments after her statement, Araguz stood up in tears and walked out of the news conference.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the current status of the case. I’m not interested in the question of what Thomas Araguz did or did not know about his wife. The lawyers and the court can sort that out. What I do care about is the argument being made that Nikki was never legally married to Thomas. As we already know, the issue of what a person’s gender is according to the law is already complicated. The legal upshot of this case, if Thomas’ mother and first wife win, would be to effectively bar transgender people in Texas from being legally able to marry at all. That’s just wrong. Here’s a statement I received from Equality Texas:

We, the attendees of the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, issue this statement to demonstrate our support for Mrs. Nikki Araguz and to call attention to her plight and that of all transgender people in the state of Texas.

Mrs. Nikki Araguz legally married a man, and her marriage has been recognized under the laws of the state of Texas. Nikki’s husband, a fireman in Wharton County, tragically was killed in the line of duty, and now other parties are attempting to use the courts to have her marriage legally overturned in an effort to deny her inheritance and insurance.

These parties are claiming that Nikki is not legally a woman under Texas law. Nikki’s opponents are attempting to use an obscure Texas case, Littleton v. Prange (1999), to declare that her marriage should be invalid. The Littleton case says that a person’s gender is determined by chromosomes, not physical attributes. The Littleton case was decided to deny a transgender woman her right to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of her husband – even though Littleton had legally changed her gender and had been legally married in Texas.

The Littleton case was wrongfully decided at the time, and if taken literally stands for the proposition that a transgender person cannot marry anyone, of either gender, under Texas law. Clearly, this is wrong. Denying anyone the right to marry whom they love is a violation of the most basic freedoms under our laws. To deny the validity of an existing, legal marriage, after one of the spouses has died, as justification for the redistribution of inheritance and insurance, is abhorrent to the values of common decency, fair play, and justice that most Texans hold dear.

We, the attendees of this Summit, extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Araguz, and call for the swift dismissal of this lawsuit so that Mrs. Araguz may be left to mourn her loss in private without distraction or worry for her financial stability.

If necessary, we also call for the courts to consider the Littleton case superseded by the recent changes to the Texas Family Code that recognize a court ordered gender change as definitive proof of identity.

Sadly, discrimination against people because of either their gender identity or expression is common. There are few laws in the state of Texas to address this need. The purpose of our Summit is to find ways to help people confront and overcome the issues now facing all transgender people in Texas and, tragically, Mrs. Nikki Araguz.

I stand with them, and with Nikki Araguz, on this matter.

Saint Arnold school supply drive

The following is from the latest Saint Arnold Army newsletter:

School Supply Drive for Needy Families on Wednesday, July 28

In conjunction with State Representative Jessica Farrar, we will be hosting a school supply drive at the brewery on Wednesday, July 28.  For many families, the basics like a backpack and pencils are difficult to afford.  What better way to help kids in these families get a great start to the school year than for us to come together and donate these items to them.  And we will bribe, er, entice you to do so with a fun evening at the brewery.

Here are the details:
Date: Wednesday, July 28
Taps open from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (remember you can bring snacks, dinner, heck, a white table cloth and 5 course meal if you like)
Admission: Bring one new or gently used children’s backpack
AND
at least one of the following items:
8 pack of markers
24 pack of crayons
Large pack of pencils
Large package of spiral notebooks

You can go to Academy or Amazon.com and get a backpack for around $20 to $25.  There are some available for as little as $15.

That would be at the Saint Arnold brewery, of course. You can find directions and a map here.

Postseason expansion: Not just for the NCAA

Texas high schools may be getting into the act, too.

There is growing support to create a Conference 6A that would send even more Texas high school football teams to the playoffs, the head of the University Interscholastic League said Monday.

UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said “it’s more likely now than ever” that about 1,200 high schools would be realigned into six classes of roughly equal size in a shake-up geared at putting more teams in the postseason. Under the plan, four schools from every district of every size would make the playoffs.

Currently, only the two largest classifications — 5A and 4A — advance four teams from each district. Critics say it has created watered-down system where schools that finish 2-8 can sometimes advance in weak districts.

Breithaupt said schools have consistently indicated on surveys that more playoff teams are better.

He wondered if the preference was a product of the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality that has become common in youth sports leagues.

“You look at the generation we’re raising up … you say those kids are used to getting more,” Breithaupt said. “They’re used to being in the playoffs. They’re used to an extra game and a trophy and being crowned. So maybe it’s just us fitting in with societal needs.”

Call me crazy, but I don’t think this has anything to do with the kids. There’s got to be a buck to be made here, and if there is, I daresay that will override any other concern.