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January 19th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for January 19

As The Slacktivist keeps saying, they are coming for your birth control. This is not about faith, it’s about politics.

Now that we have a little distance from the Hall of Fame vote, let’s talk about ways to improve the process. Bill James advocated for enlarging the electorate years ago in The Politics of Glory. That idea is needed now more than ever.

“A&E appears to have taken a large clan of affluent, college-educated, mildly conservative, country club Republicans, common across the nicer suburbs of the old south, and repackaged them as the Beverly Hillbillies.”

You do have to admit, it’s a lucrative business model for all involved.

Houston, you can get your nerd on later this month.

Obamacare has been good for Georgia, even as Georgia refuses to accept that it has been good for them.

The Sopranos debuted fifteen years ago. Yeah, we’re all old.

“Read that again: conservatives complain that we should have less welfare and more opportunity and civil society, only to turn around and also call those things ‘welfare’ too when the time comes.”

You really need to see these awesome photos from the set of Star Wars taken by Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew.

“For younger workers we really are slouching toward gender equity—we’re just doing it more by men becoming worse off than by women becoming better off.”

Photos from the No Pants Subway Ride, in case you missed it again this year.

“For $5,000 to $10,000, high-end chefs will have a new toy and tool later this year—a 3D printer specializing in sugar.”

“If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition.”

A-Rod is suing everyone in sight. I don’t think this will end well for him.

You’ll shoot your Internet connection out.

“And that’s why the Duck Dynasty affair was a huge deal. It was a test for the Christian church. It was an incredibly easy test for the Christian church. And the white evangelical church in America failed that test. Completely, utterly failed. The overwhelming majority of white evangelicals did not respond as pastors and they did not respond as prophets. They responded as jerks.”

“But what was considered extreme and nutty then is standard operating procedure today.”

Maybe someone should tell those idiots on ESPN about the record-breaking heat in Australia. Just a thought.

“Skyrocketing numbers of beachcombers are pocketing seashells, and the environmental effects could range from increased erosion to fewer building materials for bird nests.”

“Check out this beautifully simple pie chart that illustrates just how rare climate denial in the scientific community is.”

“My theory: Mascots without pants aren’t inherently creepier than mascots with pants.”

The Downton Abbey effect on British inheritance laws.

“Good ideas fail because of right-wing paranoia that congressional Republicans take seriously, and bad ideas advance because of right-wing paranoia that congressional Republicans take seriously. We can no longer focus on what is true; we must also consider what far-right media perceives as possibly true.”

RIP, Russell Johnson, best known as The Professor on Gilligan’s Island.

And RIP, Dave Madden, best known as Reuben Kinkaid from The Partridge Family.

RIP, Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who refused to surrender after World War Two ended and spent 29 years in the jungle in the Philippines. He finally agreed to surrender when his former commanding officer traveled to the Philippines and rescinded his original orders.

Analyzing the Pennsylvania anti-voter ID lawsuit ruling.

Annise Parker’s journey

The Chron reviews how Mayor Parker went from activist for the LGBT community to Mayor on the occasion of her wedding.

Annise Parker circa 1991

The country’s first openly gay mayor became the country’s first openly gay married mayor this week. A wedding wouldn’t seem the sort of event to justify partisan commentary, yet at least one critic questioned the timing: Why, the Harris County Republican Party chairman asked, did Mayor Annise Parker marry longtime partner Kathy Hubbard after her re-election?

But Parker has spent more than half of her life working to advance civil rights for homosexuals. The union is just a formality for a life lived outside the closet, years before popular culture began to catch up.

Parker first met Hubbard at Inklings, Parker’s gay and feminist bookstore in Montrose, in 1990. The 23 years they’ve spent together span a period of notable change in gay culture in our country. Parker, 57, had been out since high school.

To give their meeting cultural context, she and Hubbard met two years before singer k.d. lang came out of the closet, three years before singer Melissa Etheridge did so, and seven years before Ellen Degeneres received a toaster from Etheridge when Degeneres’ popular character said she was gay on prime-time TV.

Unlike those performers, Parker didn’t have a paying audience to consider. Instead, she had a constituency to represent. Parker in 1990 was just beginning to think about advancing her career in public service, which eventually would lead to her mayoral election. She began that work at a time when gay rights hit a flashpoint in Houston following two fatal hate crimes.

The evolution of this particular civil rights issue has been urgently debated and has evolved greatly in recent years. The tenor of the debate suggests how far it is from resolution. But it’s also easy to lose sight of how far gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights have come since Parker served as president of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus in 1986, which was one year after actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS after living out for years to close friends but closeted to the public.

Mayor Parker’s story is well known, but it’s always worth taking a look back and reminding ourselves that there was never any guarantee that any of us would wind up where we did. The fact that she is able now to marry the woman she loves and has been partnered with for 23 years would have seemed like a crazy, alternate-universe idea even five years ago. That happy occasion is unfortunately also an opportunity for the usual squadron of small-minded pecksniffs, from anonymous commenters on newspaper websites to public officials that have nothing better to do, to make nasty remarks. Whether they realize it or not, their whining is just a reminder that they’ve lost. They’ve lost in Utah, they’ve lost in Oklahoma, and perhaps as soon as next month, they’ll lose in Texas. The laws may take awhile to catch up, and as with all things some will never give up their fight for the wrong side, but they have lost. Our country is a more joyful place for it.

HISD gives final approval to revised mascot/nickname policy

That’s that.

Four HISD campuses will have to adopt new mascots after the school board gave final approval Thursday to a policy banning certain nicknames, such as the Redskins.

The proposal from Superintendent Terry Grier drew some debate among students, alumni and community members, but the change puts the school district in line with others nationwide that have retired mascots tied to Native Americans.

Specifically, the new Houston Independent School District policy bans nicknames deemed offensive or culturally insensitive. District leaders said the affected mascots are the Lamar High Redskins, the Westbury High Rebels, the Hamilton Middle School Indians and the Welch Middle School Warriors.

The school principals will have the next several months to work with the community to adopt new mascots, said HISD spokeswoman Tiffany Davila-Dunne. The school board will not have to sign off on the new names.

See here, here, and here for the background. The HISD board had tentatively approved the new policy in December. The vote for final approval was unanimous.

Earlier in the week, the Chron ran a couple of op-eds about the upcoming policy change. This one, by Carnegie Vanguard senior Maya Fontenot and Lamar alumnus Kenyon Weaver, who has been advocating this change since his high school days, deals with the usual arguments against the change.

A common refrain is that this is all political correctness, sprung on an unsuspecting HISD by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who, after meeting with a group of Native Americans, wrote a letter to Superintendent Terry Grier articulating their sincere concerns about the “Redskins.”

It is true that Ellis and Grier spotlighted this issue, but it is one that festered long before. The fact is that nationwide since the 1970s, an estimated two-thirds of schools with Native American iconography have adopted new mascots in recognition that such use is hurtful and a result of, as Stanford University’s Lois Amsterdam put it in 1972, “childish misrepresentations in games, history books and motion pictures.” (Stanford stopped using the “Indian” mascot in 1972.)

Calling this effort “PC,” or politically correct, is, in fact, the true problem. Such a posture closes the mind and the heart.

This posture leads to conversations such as: “So, what’s the big deal? It’s a small population, few Native Americans actually attend HISD, and many don’t see the term as offensive if they’re turning it into a positive word. In fact it’s honoring indigenous people. Natives are just being oversensitive.” Objecting when a public educational institution reduces an entire race of people and their traditions into a caricature used in sports, we don’t think that’s overly sensitive.

The next argument that often comes: “Where do you draw the line? If you cannot have Native Americans as mascots – what’s next, banning the use of animals too?” Ending offensive symbolism and respecting human cultures and communities is not a slippery slope that results in nonsensical rules that cross over to the animal kingdom.

Chron editorial board member Evan Mintz followed up with a point that’s worth remembering from his high school experience.

About two decades ago, my own alma mater, St. John’s School, had a similar tussle over its mascot name: The Rebels. Apparently some people didn’t like a mascot that implied we sympathized with folks who thought it a tragedy that the North won the Civil War..

The school first tried a rhetorical switch. Instead of Rebels with Confederate flags and a Johnny Reb mascot, we became Rebels as in the James Dean movie, “Rebel Without A Cause,” with a greasy-headed delinquent in a leather jacket. It was a clever trick, but not clever enough. So in 2004, after much stress, we just became the Mavericks. All the synonymous definition of Rebel, without any of the historical baggage.

Now, 10 years later, no one really seems to care. That’s the lesson: Alumni will get over it. Teenagers will identify with whatever a cheerleader yells at them. And high schools only have an institutional memory of four years.

He also has some suggestions for the four affected schools:

Be interesting. You’re losing mascots that not only fail to unite a community, but could be found at any school across our nation. Pursue something that is a unique identifier for your school or be stuck with another bland moniker.

Lamar High School, down the street from the River Oaks Country Club, could embrace its oil-money neighborhood and become the Oil Barons or Wildcatters. How about the Lamar Oilers for some Houston nostalgia?

Westbury High School, with its automotive technology programs, could become the Sparkplugs, Hot Rods or Roadsters.

Hamilton Middle School, situated between Yale and Harvard at the northern end of Heights Boulevard, could be the Ivies or the Streetcars. The school could even look to its robotics program and become the Jaegers. Giant fighting robots? Now that’s something middle school students can cheer.

And Welch Middle School should simply bask in the stardom of its most famous graduate and become the Beyoncés. Flawless.

My alma mater has followed that path – its mascot is “Pegleg Pete”, in honor of our namesake – though many of our sports teams go their own way on nicknames. Students and alumni at Lamar et al might consider that option as well.

Riding that crowded train

Metro ponders its options for dealing with potential delays in the delivery of new railcars.

Metro officials said Wednesday that the best solution to an expected shortage of railcars might be to limit trains on the main light rail line to one car rather than two, freeing up cars from the current fleet to serve new lines scheduled to open in September.

Currently, Metro tethers two cars together most of the time on the decade-old Main Street line to ensure sufficient capacity.

Officials acknowledged that the decision would frustrate riders, likely leading some to abandon using the line.

“If you try to use our current fleet to run East and Southeast,” said board member Christof Spieler, referring to the new lines set to open this year, “that means leaving passengers behind.”

Officials are waiting for 39 new railcars from the manufacturer, CAF U.S.A., but they still don’t know exactly when the cars will arrive. At least two are likely to be in service by September, Metro officials said.

The company is months behind a schedule that calls for it deliver the final car by September, and it has yet to deliver a viable vehicle. The first car to arrive in Houston came in December – five months late – and still hasn’t passed a key leak test. The train also exceeds weight specifications, meaning it will cost more to operate.

Metro’s board met Wednesday to examine options for operating the new East and Southeast lines and the existing Red Line with the agency’s 37-train fleet. Both new lines are on pace to open in September, said David Couch, vice president of rail construction for Metro.

To have trains arrive every 12 minutes on the two new lines, and assuming no CAF cars arrive by opening day, Metro will have to pull 10 trains from the current route.

See here for the background. Assuming that the two that Metro thinks are likely to show up on time do so, then eight cars will need to be diverted. If “at least two” turns out to mean “more than two”, so much the better. On the other hand, any unexpected maintenance will be that much more disruptive. I don’t see how Metro has much choice for how to deal with this in the short term, so it’s really just a question of how short the short term is. A month, maybe two months, to get enough cars in so that the Main Street line doesn’t need to be cannibalized any more, that’s probably not a big deal. Longer than that, especially if the deadlines are fuzzy and promises get broken along the way, that’s a problem. Other than be prepared to sue for damages if it comes to that, I don’t know what else Metro can do about it right now.

Who’s spamming you?

Probably someone from Dallas. Figures, right?

When it comes to those annoying and unsolicited text messages you get imploring you to reply for weight loss tips, “free” money, and adult-oriented services, Houston and Dallas are smartphone spam lords of Texas, acccording to Internet security firm AdaptiveMobile.

The funny part is that most of the SMS spam in Texas is sent between Dallas and Houston themselves, with few spam messages making it outside those two cities. The Houston versus Dallas rivalry even rages via spammers.

The report says that phones in South Florida, Dallas and Chicago are hit with the highest levels of SMS spam in the country. It also says Los Angeles creates the most SMS spam.

AdaptiveMobile said in a press release earlier this month that most of the spam in Texas is adult-themed. Florida is known for what is called “junk car” spam, solicting people to sell junker cars for cash.

You can see the infographic here and a post describing how it was created here. That latter link may be of interest to those of you that are into visualizing data; I personally prefer to see the numbers themselves, but to each her own. For what it’s worth, I hardly get any text spam at all. I get junk phone calls on my cell all the time – I’ve largely stopped answering the phone for any number I don’t recognize – but junk texts don’t seem to be a problem. Not sure why that is, but it’s fine by me. Anyway, now you know which direction to shake your fist in anger when you get spammed. You’re welcome.