Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

March 20th, 2016:

Weekend link dump for March 20

Oh, just another massive Web vulnerability you need to worry about.

Fifty things about Game of Thrones season 1, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“That’s the paradox of I Am Cait. Jenner might not be a perfect spokesperson or advocate for trans rights herself, but she is still responsible for increasing trans visibility and making sure that other better spokespeople can be heard as well.”

“Within six years, the cost of owning an electric car will be cheaper than purchasing and running a petrol or diesel model.”

A rough estimate of the total cost of DeflateGate. Which, as it turns out, is right in line with Watergate.

Attack ads against potential Supreme Court nominees. This is where we are now.

“This new report, from Seth Carnahan, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and Brad Greenwood, an assistant professor at Temple University, finds that women face particular disadvantage in offices where their bosses make more political contributions to Republicans than Democrats.”

In case you needed another reason to love Mister Rogers, here you have one.

“In case you’re curious, this is how Trump treats the little people. Some of the investors in his casinos were big guns who should have known better. But plenty of them were moms and pops who believed Trump when he insisted he was the greatest businessman the world had ever known. Trump didn’t care: he figured he could fleece them, and he did. That’s what happens to people who trust Donald Trump.”

“Y’all” is good English, y’all.

What Trumpism is all about.

And Ted Cruz is the Senate colleague that the Republicans deserve.

“Boldly going where no lawsuit has gone before, two movie studios are contending that a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film has violated copyright law by—among many other things—using the Klingon language.”

Growing dinosaur parts on chickens. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll say it again: For a guy who’s supposed to be super freaking smart, Ted Cruz sure says – and apparently believes – a lot of stupid things.

“Donald Trump’s candidacy has sparked a civil war inside American Christianity.”

How to die in an environmentally friendly fashion.

“It’s pathetic. I feel genuinely bad for him. He’s an inspiring man who did great things despite imperfections, and then jumped into an endeavor where there was nothing positive that he could do, and he just keeps sinking deeper into the mud.”

RIP, Frank Sinatra, Jr, son of the legendary singer.

Seems like a no-brainer to me for all MLB teams to ban chewing tobacco in their dugouts.

The scariest thing about Donald Trump is how he distracts us from just how scary Ted Cruz is.

And yes, Donald Trump, thanks to you China is laughing at us.

What Tanya Bondurant says.

“I need help working through this. I’m starting to suspect that the 2016 election might disprove the possibility of the future invention of time travel.”

Sid Miller and the Jesus Shot

I have three things to say about this.


Less than a month after taking office, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller flew to Oklahoma City with a top aide, billing the taxpayers at least $1,120 for flights and a rental car, budget records show.

At the time, Miller said he made the trip to tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma lawmakers as well as the state’s top agriculture official. His office posted a picture on Facebook of him with three lawmakers who his office said had invited him to the Sooner State’s Capitol.

Recent interviews have cast doubt on that description, however. All of the lawmakers in the photograph, or their aides, said they did not invite Miller or even expect him in their state that day in February 2015. The president of the stockyards said it did not give him a tour. And Miller himself now acknowledges that he requested the meeting with the Oklahoma agriculture official – and then did not show up.

A rental car receipt shows Miller and his aide drove 128 miles on the trip.

The interviews suggest a possible explanation: One of the lawmakers and another person with direct knowledge of the trip both said Miller told them that he got a medical procedure while in Oklahoma.

Miller, a former rodeo cowboy who suffers from chronic pain, told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year he has received the “Jesus Shot,” a controversial but legal medication administered only by a single Oklahoma City-area doctor who claims that it takes away all pain for life.

Miller declined to confirm or deny whether he received the injection during the February 2015 trip.

The agriculture commissioner insisted that the trip was a business trip that served state taxpayers. If nothing else, Miller said, the Facebook picture proves that he met with Oklahoma lawmakers.

Still, one of those lawmakers described his talk with Miller as nothing more than a brief chat that started in a hallway.

Aides to the others agreed.

“He’s saying that was the business purpose of his trip?” Rep. Jerry Shoemake said. “Really?”

In response to questions about the trip, Miller’s office said late Thursday that he had decided to pay back the flight and rental car costs.

“Out of an abundance of caution the commissioner is reimbursing the state for the cost of this trip,” spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said in an email. “He will continue to work on behalf of the agriculture industry in the Lone Star State, and travel across the country and around the world to identify new markets for Texas agricultural exports in order to grow the industry and create jobs for hardworking Texans.”

1. If you’re going to steal, steal big. Sid Miller earns $137,500 a year. Surely he could afford to drive to Oklahoma and pay $1100 for a shot, assuming his finances aren’t a complete mess. Why go to all this trouble for such a little payoff? I grant that Sid Miller isn’t terribly concerned about his reputation, but I don’t get taking this kind of risk for something so insubstantial.

2. In a better world, Miller’s clown show would be something that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick would have to address. Sure, they’re not Miller’s keeper, but they are his colleagues in state government, and it’s entirely appropriate for them to be asked what they think about this. We don’t live in that world, of course. National media can go wall-to-wall with a story and force politicians who don’t want to answer certain questions to at least be asked them, but that’s not how it is here. This is something Rick Perry didn’t understand before his ill-fated Presidential run in 2012.

3. I firmly believe that the Republican hegemony in Texas is unsustainable, at least with the kind of Republicans we have now. It could last for awhile, and they have the resources to keep it on the shelves long past its sell-by date, but it will come to an end. If there’s one thing that I believe will hasten this end, it’s scandal and corruption. Ken Paxton and his felony indictments is an obvious problem for them, but Sid Miller shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s one thing to be a clown, it’s another to be a clown who steals. That’s a lot harder to laugh off, and it has the potential to taint those around him. When that will happen, I can’t say. But I feel confident that sooner or later it will.

More Metro appointments for Mayor Turner

The Chron editorial board gets its wish.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday named two new Metro board members and reappointed two others – taking a more moderate course than his predecessor, who replaced all five of the city’s appointees.

Disability rights advocate Lex Frieden and construction oversight manager Troi Taylor will join the board, presumably in April once the City Council and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board approve them. They will join current members Christof Spieler and Sanjay Ramabhadran, whom the mayor opted to retain. On March 4, Turner tapped former board member Carrin Patman, an attorney, as board chair.

“I think it is a stellar team,” Turner said, saying the appointees’ diverse backgrounds give him confidence they’ll tackle Houston’s transit challenges.

Counting Patman, three of Houston’s five appointees to the nine-member board served before Turner took office in January.


Frieden is the second person with a physical disability appointed to Metro’s board, after Kathleen DeSilva, appointed by then-Mayor Bob Lanier in 1992. DeSilva, who died in August, was appointed after Frieden and others challenged Lanier to add members of the disabled community to more city boards and commissions.

He is a nationally recognized leader in the independent living movement and in research into access to services by the disabled.

Taylor is a construction development specialist, notably in planning and building health care facilities. Turner said Taylor, a Houston native, has delivered 10 consecutive multi-million-dollar projects “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Taylor’s father, Joseph, was a Metro bus driver for 18 years.

“I would ride on the bus just behind him and we’d talk,” Taylor said.

“I think part of our job is going to be making alternative transportation attractive again,” Taylor said, citing a “culture shift” necessary to draw more riders to light rail and buses.

The Mayor’s press release is here. the Chron had made a point of asking Mayor Turner to retain Christof Spieler on the Metro board, though by law he can be there for only two more years. Which means the Mayor will have at least one more opportunity to pick Board members in his first term. Congratulations and good luck to the new appointees.

On teaching kids who don’t speak English

From The Atlantic:

Out of all the cities in Texas, this would seemingly have been the one where schools knew how to help Spanish-speaking students learn. El Paso is progressive and welcoming, and is more than 80 percent Latino. Its close ties with Ciudad Juarez, just across the border, means that the city embraces its Mexican roots and the people who have crossed the border for a better life. But a recent cheating scandal revealed that not even El Paso could successfully figure out how to best educate English-language learners.

In an effort to improve state test scores at Bowie High School in the 60,000-student El Paso Independent School District, administrators told some low-performing—mostly immigrant students—to drop out of school. And for years, administrators contorted their student rolls, skipping students from 9th to 11th grade so they wouldn’t have to take the state tests in 10th grade and bring down the school’s scores. Others, they chose not to educate at all: Many Spanish-speaking El Paso students at Bowie High School and others in the district were simply “disappeared” out of school rosters, their transcripts changed so they could be shown to have graduated, without ever having finished high school.

After the El Paso Times revealed the depth of the cheating scandal in 2012, the superintendent of the El Paso Independent School district went to jail, and the border city vowed to do better for its low-income, Spanish-speaking students.

Part of the problem is resources: Texas cut $5.4 billion from its public-schools budget during the recession, and a number of lawsuits allege that the state’s method of allocating revenue hurts lower-income districts in particular, which are often the schools with the most English-language learners. Latino rights advocates have been battling the state since 1970, arguing that it discriminates against minority students by failing to fund programs for English-language learners. An offshoot of that case, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund in 2014, accuses the Texas Education Agency of failing to effectively monitor, implement, and enforce programs for English-language learners.

Another problem may be the political optics of beefing up programs for non-English speakers.Texas legislators don’t want to be seen as spending state money on Spanish speakers, says Marco Portales, a Texas A&M professor who studies education trends. “It’s a conservative state, and they don’t want to be perceived as helping or teaching kids with other languages,” he said. “They’re not like in California. California plays up the fact that they teach more than 70 languages. You’ll never hear Texas say any such thing.”

There are scattered programs through the state that use the dual-language method, which teaches children in both languages, but they’re not the norm, he said. Some districts just have English-as-a-second-language courses, others separate Spanish and English-speaking students for much of the day.

Research may show that English-language learners do best when they are taught in two languages, but implementing bilingual education programs can be tricky. School districts in Texas, and even those in El Paso, can’t seem to decide the best method for educating English-language learners. El Paso might be just across the border, after all, but it is in America, and teaching American kids in Spanish, some administrators worry, may not prepare them for the real world.

Read the whole thing. It would have been nice to know more about what the best practices are for English-language learners. The story notes that El Paso ISD and neighboring Ysleta ISD take two different approaches, without giving any clue as to which one produces better results. Beyond that, the two main takeaways for me are that the more you depend on a particular method of evaluation, the more incentive there is for those that struggle with it to game the system, and school districts that have greater challenges to overcome need greater resources to enable them to overcome those challenges. You’d think that last one would be pretty obvious, but it’s not to our Legislature. One hopes that the Supreme Court is able to see it.