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May 29th, 2016:

Weekend link dump for May 29

How to deal with “Your issue is trivial, you should spend more time on what I find most important” arguments.

Can changing birth certificates change the bathroom access debate?

Maybe get a second opinion before you decide whether or not to have surgery.

“Three and a half billion years ago, a mega asteroid slammed into Earth, triggering massive tsunamis and leaving craters bigger than many U.S. states. […] Now, for the first time, remnants of that impact have been uncovered in ancient sediments in Australia, and they’re revealing more intriguing details about the Earth at that time.

Spider silk is some amazing stuff.

RIP, Nick Menza, former drummer for the rock group Megadeth.

Florence + The Machine are mensches. Have some Kleenex handy, you may need them.

I had no idea horse racing was so deadly.

Oh, Florida. I don’t even know what to say.

“Two decades ago, [Ken] Starr spent millions in taxpayer money to figure out if a consensual blowjob between adults took place.[1] Today he runs an institution that, from what journalists have uncovered, turned a blind eye repeatedly to sexual assault and domestic abuse allegations.”

RIP, Burt Kwouk, actor best known for playing Cato on the Pink Panther movies.

What Jon Ralston says.

Why robocalls are such a problem again.

RIP, Beth Howland, best known as Vera on the sitcom Alice.

“What Trump did was the equivalent of promising five bucks to a veteran’s charity and then trying to weasel out of it. What kind of person would do that?”

RIP, Mell Lazarus, creator of the Miss Peach and Momma comic strips.

“I’d love to trumpet hypocrisy in the recent scandal around the possible ouster of the Baylor University president, but the gravitational pull toward hypocrisy is more than a salacious twist; it’s a distraction from the critical conversation we need to be having on sexual assault and the institutions that cover it up.”

How an indie rock band’s well-intentioned homage became a $50,000 mistake.

Get to know Phyllis Randolph Frye, the grandmother of the transgender rights movement.

“So, there’s a long record here that spans a half a century at this point, and it tells a clear story. The story is that Democratic presidents and Democratic congresses have created the regime and the standards that are being used to judge Hillary Clinton harshly, and that those rules and regulations wouldn’t even exist if the Republicans had had their way.”

Memorial residents file lawsuit over flooding

This ought to be interesting.

A group of residents sued the city of Houston and one of its local redevelopment authorities Wednesday, alleging that they approved commercial development in the Memorial City area without requiring adequate storm water mitigation, resulting in increased flooding in residential neighborhoods.

Claiming federal and state constitutional violations, the west Houston group Residents Against Flooding, joined by several individuals, is seeking to require the city to prioritize neighborhood flood relief by expediting drainage projects in residential areas and halting commercial building permits for projects on large lots unless those developments are found to not increase residential flood risks.

The plaintiffs also are looking to bar the redevelopment authority for Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 17 from executing new private development agreements until further drainage infrastructure improvements are made to residential areas.

“The defendants’ actions and inactions — knowingly sending stormwaters into the residential neighborhoods that lack adequate infrastructure, without mitigation or necessary infrastructure improvement, and favoring projects for the private commercial interests at great expense to the residential interests — should shock our collective conscience,” the plaintiffs wrote.

See here for some background. You can see a copy of the lawsuit here; the plaintiffs had threatened last month that this was in the offing. There’s a good summary of what it’s all about at Swamplot – short answer is that the plaintiffs aren’t seeking damages, but to undertake and/or finish previously recommended drainage mitigation projects, and to put a halt to commercial development permits in the area until those projects have been done. I have no idea what their odds of success are, but I will be keeping an eye on this. The Press has more.

Two runoff recounts in the works

It’s not over yet in HD128.

Rep. Wayne Smith

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff.

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount.

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Smith lost in the closest race of the runoffs, though not the closest race of the cycle. I was surprised when he initially declined to ask for a recount, so I’m not surprised he changed his mind.

The other recount was announced immediately in the aftermath of Tuesday’s runoffs.

Tuesday’s Republican primary runoffs may not be over yet for at least one candidate.

The contests produced a number of narrow margins — including in House District 54, where Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper won by just 43 votes. His opponent, Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, said late Tuesday night he has “decided to pursue filing for a recount.”


A losing candidate can ask for a recount if the number of votes by which he or she lost is less than 10 percent of the total number of votes his or her opponent received, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline to apply for a recount is by the end of the fifth day after the election or the second day after the vote totals are canvassed.

That deadline is Thursday, June 2, at 5 PM, according to the Secretary of State. I can’t imagine there will be any other requests, as the only other runoffs for which the races were close have had the losing candidates concede. But if Wayne Smith can change his mind then someone else could, too.

Remembering Buckyballs and the Nobel Prize they won

Twenty years ago, two Rice University chemists won the Nobel Prize for a revolutionary idea about carbon molecules.

The discovery of Buckyballs, a new form of carbon that ushered in the era of nanotechnology and won a Nobel Prize, happened largely by accident.

In 1985, Rice University chemists Robert Curl and Richard Smalley hosted British chemist Harry Kroto for a series of experiments in Houston. Kroto had a theory about how long carbon chains were formed in the atmospheres of carbon-rich giant stars, and Smalley had built a laser beam apparatus that could vaporize molecules and test the theory.

Over 10 days, the three professors and three graduate students conducted tests in which they vaporized carbon molecules with Smalley’s laser beam apparatus and then measured how the carbon atoms clustered together. To their surprise, in addition to the long chain molecules they were seeking, they found a high number of clusters consisting of 60 carbon atoms.

The professors tasked their graduate students with finding ways of changing the parameters of the experiment to increase the number of C60 molecules and tried to theorize what their structure would look like. They knew the structure had to be something more stable, like a sphere, that would protect the bonds between the carbon atoms from being easily broken.

“What was the chemical structure?” Curl recalled in his Rice office earlier this month. “How can you put 60 carbon atoms together and come up with something really stable?”

Kroto remembered he had built with his children a paper star dome that consisted of both pentagons and hexagons. He wanted to call his wife in England to have her find the construction.

“But it was getting late, and it seemed highly improbable that he had done this,” Curl said.

Instead, that night, Smalley fiddled with paper, scissors and scotch tape, creating a paper sphere made up of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons with 60 corners. It fit all the parameters for a stable form of carbon with 60 atoms.

The structure resembled the geodesic domes that American architect Buckminster Fuller designed for the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition. They decided to name the structure buckminsterfullerene in his honor. They called the spheres Buckyballs for short because they resembled soccer balls.

The trio was excited about what they came up with, but it was only a theory. They had no proof other than the high number of C60 molecules they were seeing in their experiments.

“That didn’t deter us,” Curl said.

Read the rest, it’s worth your time. Smalley passed away in 2005; Curl is now an emeritus professor. They didn’t have to win the Nobel for this research – there was another team that had made a similar discovery. Buckyballs themselves were never of much practical use, but the discovery led to the field of nanotechnology and the creation of nanotubes, among other things. It’s fair to say we live in a different world today because of Robert Curl and Richard Smalley.