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July 6th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for July 6

News flash: Spending a lot of time on your butt watching TV may be bad for your health.

If you’re going to take money from the devil, you really need to do some serious good with it.

“How did you know my name was Elsa?” “Well, aren’t most girls your age named Elsa?”

What’s the matter with Kansas economically?

On Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the man you know as Batman’s creator and the man you should know.

“This is the major problem with how the vast majority of reform conservatives think about climate change (with a few exceptions). They neither articulate a clear view of what kind of climate goals they would prefer nor demonstrate how their favorite policies would get us there.”

“Said it before, will say it again: If the folks who annoy and harass women going to health care clinics were really concerned about protecting innocent life, why aren’t they out protesting in front of the headquarters of Koch Industries?”

Good to know Bing is better than Google at something. (Technically, neither link is NSFW, but the subject matter is, so I’d wait till I got home before I clicked either of them.)

From the Kids Are All Right files.

“We tend to forget that the first coldly expedient hero to anchor an influential, long-running series named after him wasn’t Tony Soprano. It was Jerry Seinfeld.”

This is not a ruling that upholds religious liberty. It is a ruling that specifically enshrines abortion as the most important religious liberty in America.”

“The obvious solution to this dilemma is to take health insurance away from employers altogether.”

“This idea — that women’s reproductive well-being is vital to both their personal prospects and the country’s fortunes — runs throughout [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s dissent. It is notably absent from Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion.”

“Individuals should not be able to declare that anything they dislike causes abortion and therefore avoid any laws relating to that item. Because there is no steady, safe line to draw between those who think IUDs cause abortions and those who think Tylenol causes abortion.”

Still not enough? See The Slacktivist for more. And keep feeling that feeling you have right now.

Happy (almost) tenth anniversary to The Comics Curmudgeon!

And along the same lines, happy 35th birthday to the Sony Walkman.

Good news! We may get A Very Sherlock Christmas next year, hopefully with a better title. Bad news: That means the next Sherlock wouldn’t be till Christmas of 2015. More bad news: It may be the only Sherlock we get next year.

Well, of course Bonnie Raitt would get raptured if there ever was a rapture.

Maybe if Supreme Court Justices had to walk through protest zones and get called awful things to their faces they might have been a bit more reluctant to strike down the MA buffer zone law.

“I absolutely have not received any privileges from sexual assault. [George Will] has clearly never experienced the fear of sexual assault. He clearly has no idea how hard it is to sleep, to walk around, thinking at any moment this person that you live down the hall from could come out.”

“With a majority on their side, and the fact that this issue brings out a lot of distastefully puritanical and frankly misogynistic stuff from Republicans, Democrats would be happy to force their opponents to talk about contraception as much as possible.” As Sally Kohn also notes.

#HobbyLobbyLove fail.

“On the first day of the new Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act, a misunderstanding between two armed men in a convenience store Tuesday led to a drawn firearm and a man’s arrest.”

RIP, Louis Zamperini, Olypmian, WWII hero, and the subject of the book and movie-to-be “Unbroken”. See “Unbroken” author Laura Hillenbrand’s eulogy to Zampirini as well.

In defense of Ivy Taylor

Ivy Taylor is a San Antonio City Council member. She’s currently considered a frontrunner to succeed outgoing Mayor Julian Castro once he leaves to become Housing Secretary. Her elevation to Mayor would be historic, as she would be the first African-American Mayor of San Antonio, but it has also generated some controversy because in 2013 she voted against expanding the city’s non-discrimination ordinance in San Antonio to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. San Antonio College Professor Frederick Williams penned an op-ed in the San Antonio Current in defense of CM Taylor.

CM Ivy Taylor

Some residents from the LBGT community have publicly made it known that they oppose Taylor’s consideration by the council to serve as mayor in the interim before May’s general election. Their opposition is based primarily on her 2013 vote against the ordinance that bans discrimination in city contracting based on sexual preference and gender expression. Political activist and former chairman of CAUSA, a gay and lesbian organization, Dan Graney has stated his strong opposition to Taylor. In an interview with the Express-News, he said, “While it would be historic for the first African-American woman to become mayor of San Antonio, Ivy Taylor is not that person because she does not meet the test of being a leader who will fairly represent the interest of all San Antonians.”

Community activist William B. Johnson believes that the councilwoman was wrong in her vote against the ordinance. However, he does not believe that one vote means she will not represent the entire city. Taylor has made it quite clear that if the council votes her into the mayor’s office for the interim, she will uphold all laws and ordinances passed by the council, to include the anti-discrimination ordinance. Political Science professor and long-time resident of District 2 Margaret Richardson also believes that Taylor should have supported the ordinance, but like Johnson, is in favor of her elevation to the mayor’s office.

Taylor’s situation is comparable to that of President Barack Obama, who originally opposed gay marriage. But as civil rights attorney Chris Pittard of Forte and Pittard points out, the president finally came around to supporting that and other constitutional rights for the LBGT community. This potentially damaging division between the two communities could lead to Taylor being denied this historic opportunity due to opposition from LBGT groups. Johnson and Richardson have it right when they argue that her one vote should not outweigh the significance of a black woman serving as mayor of the seventh largest city in the country. If the LBGT community is held responsible for her failure to become mayor, it could give the homophobes in the black community even more ammunition to oppose LGBT citizens’ quest for equal rights, something they definitely deserve

President Obama’s opposition to same sex marriage back in 2008 is often cited as a defense for people who remain out of step with today’s Democratic Party on equality issues. One reason why marriage equality is completely mainstream among Democrats is because of Obama’s endorsement of the issue during the 2012 campaign. That was considered courageous at the time, and it put a lot at stake by doing it essentially unprompted during a Presidential race, though by that point the President wasn’t exactly out in front of the issue. Still, his support gave cover to every other Democrat, and contributed greatly to the widespread acceptance marriage equality enjoys today. It also means that the courage needed and the risk-taking involved to make that stand in a contentious election in 2012 just aren’t there for a non-discrimination ordinance in 2013. Sure, there would be plenty of heat for supporting that ordinance, but way more people have your back for it now.

My point is that President Obama stuck his neck out and showed leadership in 2012. Ivy Taylor had a chance to do that in 2013, with much lower stakes, and she declined. One needs to be careful in using the story of Candidate Obama in 2008 and marriage equality, because the story didn’t end there. If Professor Williams’ point is that we managed to look past this blot on Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and things turned out all right anyway, I’ve got two responses. One is that it’s not 2008 any more. We’ve come a long way on the equality issue, as already noted, and it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to understand what anyone’s reluctance is about now. I understand there are counterveiling forces out there, especially in local politics, and they can be awfully noisy when these issues come to the forefront. I’m sure CM Dwight Boykins can relate to what Ivy Taylor is going through. But we can all see which way the arc of history is bending. You tell me where it’s best to be in relation to that.

And two, what is Ivy Taylor doing to demonstrate that she can and will come around on this as President Obama did? Saying she will “uphold all laws and ordinances passed by the council” is the same as saying she will not violate her oath of office. It’s literally the least she can do. What has she said or done to indicate that she sees things differently now, that she understands the importance of San Antonio’s update non-discrimination ordinance, and that she will work to improve things further? Her No vote in 2013 means she doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. She needs to prove it.

That’s what it comes down to for me, and I say that as someone who is neither a San Antonian nor a spokesperson for the LGBT community in San Antonio. There are good reasons to be skeptical of Ivy Taylor, so it’s on her to provide good reasons why that skepticism is no longer warranted. If she can do that, great! Give her serious consideration for the Interim Mayor job. If not, well, then I have no problem with opposing that consideration. Regardless, the ball is in her court.

Houston’s payday lending ordinance is now in place

Part of me hopes that there’s a lot of complaints, and part of me hopes there’s very few.

Houston’s stringent new rules on payday and auto title lenders took effect Tuesday, reviving industry complaints that it would drive companies out of business, or at least out of the city, but giving borrowers a clearer path out debt.

“We’ll see stores close, we’ll see people laid off,” said Rob Norcross, of Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, a loan industry group. “You’ll have some companies that will maintain stores at lower revenue levels, and they’ll probably close other ones. We’ve only seen a couple companies close up shop totally in the other large metropolitan areas. It will be a gradual process.”

He predicted borrowers whose needs exceed the city’s new limits will go to lenders in unregulated areas, get a loan online or take out several small loans to add up to the amount they want.

Payday lending involves small, short-term loans that avoid legal caps on fees and interest that apply to such mainstream lenders as banks. Title loans operate similarly and are secured by the borrower’s automobile title, leaving the vehicle at risk for repossession. Borrowers typically lack the funds or credit to get loans any other way.

In the 10-county Houston region, home to a fourth of the state’s 3,240 such lenders, data show borrowers refinance more and pay on time less than state averages and that more than 100 title borrowers have their cars repossessed each week.

Houston’s ordinance limits payday loans to 20 percent of a borrower’s gross monthly income and auto title loans to 3 percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the car’s value, whichever is less. Single-payment payday loans can be refinanced no more than three times, while installment loans can include no more than four payments. The principal owed must drop by at least 25 percent with each installment or refinancing.

[…]

On the first day of enforcement, city officials had identified 361 active payday and auto title lenders inside Houston’s city limits, 309 of which had registered under the new rules as of Tuesday morning.

Toya Ramirez, a staff analyst in the city’s Administration & Regulatory Affairs department hired to oversee the ordinance, said it was unclear which of the remaining 52 lenders have closed, moved outside city limits or simply failed to register.

Ramirez said the city will approach enforcement using a complaint-based system, and said there are no stings or compliance audits planned.

The ordinance was passed in December, with a grace period to allow the lenders to get up to speed. Houston’s original plan was to do enforcement more aggressively, but I’m okay with this approach. For now, anyway. If the payday lenders are mostly compliant with the ordinance, there won’t be any need to be more proactive. My prediction is that despite Rob Norcross’ crocodile tears the industry will continue to profit handsomely, just a little less handsomely than before. If that does wind up squeezing a few operators out – as we can see by this map, there’s plenty of them – that will be fine by me.

Maglev pods in the sky

And now for something completely different.

Image courtesy of: www.skytran.us

Image courtesy of: www.skytran.us

skyTran, Inc., headquartered at the NASA Research Park (NRP) near Mountain View, California, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a company headquartered in Lod, Israel, entered into an agreement today for the construction of a skyTran Technology Demonstration System (TDS) on the grounds of IAI’s corporate campus. The agreement was executed by the Director of IAI’s Lahav Division, Yosef (Yossi) Melamed and by skyTran CEO, Jerry Sanders.

skyTran is the developer of the patented high-speed, elevated, levitating, energy-efficient, skyTran transportation system. The skyTran system is a network of computer-controlled, 2-person “jet-like” vehicles employing state-of-the-art passive, magnetic levitation (maglev) technology. skyTran systems will transport passengers in a fast, safe, green, and economical manner. skyTran intends to revolutionize public transportation and, with it, urban and suburban commuting.

IAI is a world leader in the development and production of aerospace systems and aircraft. It has accumulated nearly half a century of experience in creating and supplying advanced systems for customers worldwide and it devotes substantial resources to research and development.

Jerry Sanders remarked, “The support afforded by IAI is a breakthrough for skyTran. IAI, as a worldclass designer of aircraft and avionics, is the perfect partner to take skyTran from concept to construct.” Yossi Melamed declared, “We are proud to be part of this exciting moment in transportation history and to host the first SkyTran system in our grounds. The TDS will incorporate IAI’s advanced capabilities in the areas of engineering, robotics, and control.”

The TDS will incorporate skyTran’s salient features. It will provide a platform for skyTran vehicles to travel at high speeds, with full payloads while levitating. The TDS will enable testing, refinement, and validation of skyTran’s technology in a controlled environment.

The TDS will be followed by deployment of the first commercial skyTran system in Tel Aviv, Israel. Other projects worldwide are pending TDS completion.

Via Engadget and Swamplot, the latter of which picked it up because the featured image on the Engadget post, which I have included here, is a bizarre mashup of Houston’s downtown skyline and some freeway/green space combination that may not exist anywhere, courtesy of skyTran’s images page. The About and Benefits pages will tell you what there is to know about this idea, which if it is successful in Israel could come to San Francisco (skyTran’s US headquarters), where is would undoubtedly compete with the trolleys as a tourist attraction, if nothing else. After that, who knows? I wonder if John Culberson would let one of these things get built on Richmond Avenue.