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May 10th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for May 10

A parable, or maybe just an allegory, about secrets, small towns, and people that everyone knows.

“I feel like I’m hardly one to talk, since lockdown orders barely affect me at all. Still, these two charts suggest that Americans were able to comply with lockdowns for only about a month before they started to take them less and less seriously. Europeans mostly seem to have done better even though their lockdowns were more severe, and our willingness to sacrifice for only a month speaks poorly for both our political system and our innate stores of self-discipline.”

On the other hand, bird watching is up. So we’ve got that going for us.

“These scientists saw the coronavirus coming. Now they’re trying to stop the next pandemic before it starts.”

RIP, Don Shula, Hall of Famer and winningest coach in NFL history.

“What’s wrong with the IHME model of the coronavirus?”

“Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We’re Headed — And Why They Disagree”.

“Cleanly, a snazzy laundry startup, promised NYC nurses and doctors ‘the gift of clean laundry.’ Instead, it created a COVID-19 underwear catastrophe.”

“The number of deaths makes the problem feel even more remote. Approximately 1 out of 5,800 Americans has died of COVID-19. If you know 600 people, that means that on average, someone that you know might themselves know one person who has died. That’s two degrees of separation between you and a single COVID-19 death. The toll of COVID-19 won’t feel real to most Americans outside of hot zones until death counts are at least double of what they are today. It would take more than half a million deaths in the United States before, on average, every American personally knows a single person who died of the disease. We can’t wait that long.

Just this past weekend, two friends of mine reported the passing of a parent on Facebook, in each case from COVID-19. I guess that makes me above average. Also, that half a million deaths scenario may be closer than you think. Or maybe not.

And for a palate cleanser, this is the nicest and most charming thing you will read all week.

Quibi isn’t off to a great start. If that sentence makes no sense to you, that’s part of the reason why they’re not off to a great start.

An interview with the Florida beach Grim Reaper, the hero we need but don’t deserve.

“Already threatened by the advancement in special effects that create computer-generate crowds, the background acting community is bracing for possible extinction in the wake of COVID-19.”

Nicolas Cage To Star As Tiger King‘s Joe Exotic In New Scripted Series“. What more do you need to know?

“BuzzFeed News asked seven doctors, scientists, and public health experts about whether they would visit an open park or a beach with their families — and what precautions they would take if doing so.”

“Doesn’t our national loss deserve more than just checking the number on CNN every hour, and shaking our heads as the death toll tops 50,000, then 67,000 and beyond?”

“Elon Musk and singer Grimes have confirmed they have named their baby X Æ A-12.”

“So throughout most of the country we are going to add fuel to the viral fire by reopening. It’s going to happen if I like it or not, so my goal here is to try to guide you away from situations of high risk.”

RIP, Beryl Ann “B.A.” Bentsen, widow of former Senator Lloyd Bentsen.

RIP, Bob Park, physicist, author, and debunker of all manner of scientific fallacies.

RIP, Little Richard, pioneering legend of rock music and charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I had the good fortune to see him perform live, at a fundraiser at the Houstonian back in 1997. It was amazing.

RIP, Mary Pratt, who pitched for the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman to resign

This was unexpected, to say the least.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman will resign May 31 due to health concerns, she said Saturday afternoon.

Trautman, 70, steps down just 16 months into her first term. She defeated incumbent clerk Stan Stanart in 2018.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, my age, and underlying health issues, I do not feel I can safely continue to carry out my duties,” Trautman said in a statement. She declined to answer questions.

Commissioners Court will appoint an interim clerk to serve until November, when a new clerk is elected. The Democratic and Republican parties will each put forth a nominee.

During her brief tenure, Trautman’s signature success was the implementation of county voting centers, which for the first time allowed residents to visit any polling place on Election Day. County Judge Lina Hidalgo praised that effort and Trautman’s dedication to the job.

“Dr. Trautman embodies the spirit of the community she has served,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “In her brief time as County Clerk, Dr. Trautman has fought to make it easier for citizens to participate in elections and make their voices heard.”

You can see a copy of her press release, which hit my mailbox at 6 PM last night, here. I’m still a little stunned, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if she will be just the first in line to step down over health and safety concerns. Elected officials tend to be older, and we have seen multiple stories of them having come down with COVID-19. A quick google search turned up three examples of state representatives who have died as a result of the disease. In that regard, it’s honestly a little surprising we haven’t seen more elected officials do the same.

As her resignation is official on May 31, I assume there will be some kind of application process for the interim Clerk. Whoever that is will have to continue the preparations for more mail ballots as well as making in-person voting as safe as possible, both for the voters and the poll workers. No pressure, right? I presume the nominee to replace her on the November ballot will be picked by the precinct chairs, as we did with Commissioner Ellis and the three judges in 2016. That will add a level of excitement to the next CEC meeting, which is already going to be a big deal since the March one was postponed. I’m sure I’ll begin hearing from hopefuls in short order. I do not envy whoever it is at the HCDP who will be tasked with organizing this meeting, which I’m going to guess will have to be done remotely, unless we all somehow feel confident about packing several hundred mostly older folks into the IBEW hall one day next month. This is going to be all kinds of fun. We’ll get it done one way or another. In the meantime, my thanks to Diane Trautman for her service, and my best wishes for a healthy post-County Clerk life.

Here comes Everytown

Bring it.

Gun safety groups planning to spend millions to turn Texas blue this year are rolling out their first round of ads, which say COVID-19 isn’t the only public health crisis facing the state.

Everytown for Gun Safety, the Michael Bloomberg-backed group that plans to spend $8 million in Texas this year, is launching $250,000 in digital ads targeting Republicans including Houston-area U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Michael McCaul, as well as Central Texas U.S. Rep. Chip Roy.

The group shared the plan exclusively with Hearst Newspapers. It includes ads targeting Central Texas U.S. Rep. John Carter and Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving running for a Dallas-area congressional seat. The ads say the Republicans “ignored our safety” by opposing universal background checks and other gun laws.

[…]

Everytown isn’t alone in targeting Texas, the top target in 2020 for groups pushing for more restrictive gun laws. BradyPAC, the political affiliate of one of the country’s oldest gun violence prevention groups, plans to spend more than $500,000 on elections in the state, more than it’s spending anywhere in the nation by far.

See here for the background. I approve of the target list, though I assume at some point these groups will turn to the State House races, since taking over the State House serves the goal of winning and holding Congress as well. But part of this is just about boosting Dem turnout, in the places where it grew the most in 2018. That should lift all the boats. The Trib, which has a longer story, has more.

Maybe all schools will start earlier this year

What do you think about this?

Texas Education Agency officials on Thursday pitched the benefits of starting the 2020-21 school year in early August, ending it later than normal and building in longer breaks that could serve as make-up days if campuses are closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a presentation posted online, TEA officials said the upcoming school year is “likely to be disrupted” by building closures and high levels of student absenteeism, issues that could be alleviated by districts moving closer to a year-around academic calendar.

One sample calendar offered in the presentation shows classes starting in early August and ending in late June, with longer-than-normal breaks around the Thanksgiving, winter and spring break holidays.

TEA officials did not mandate or formally recommend districts change their academic calendar, noting that local school boards ultimately have the authority to set schedules. However, agency leaders said the option, called an “intersessional calendar,” provides more flexibility to address students’ academic needs.

“Given the ongoing disruptions caused by COVID-19, TEA has spoken with numerous educators about the need to adapt our school systems to this new environment,” a TEA official said in an email to the Houston Chronicle.

“One potential option is to adjust the school calendar, to improve our school systems’ collective ability to respond to continued COVID-19 disruptions and address any learning gaps that have emerged over the latter portion of this school year. The presentation lays out options informed by those discussions.”

[…]

TEA officials also promoted the possibility of offering instruction to the neediest students during longer breaks if make-up days are not needed. However, state law only provides additional funding — at half the typical rate — for students enrolled in grades prekindergarten through 5 if districts go beyond certain minutes and days of instruction.

Some of the changes also could require restructuring employee contracts for 2020-21 — many of which are not yet signed — and schedules for extracurricular events. In their presentation, TEA officials said calendar overhauls would require “substantial change management” and “immediate action.”

For now, at least, I’m taking this in the same spirit as all those “how MLB could play its season” proposals, which is to say mostly as a thought experiment so that they have some options at hand if they can go forward at all. I mean, if “reopening” leads to another, much higher, peak of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths, we could be back in lockdown at this time. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen, and planning for uncertainty is by definition a dicey affair.

But let’s say for these purposes that this is feasible, that we will be able to open schools in August. In that case, I can think of a few objections to this idea. One is that families who plan travel in the summer will complain, since we’d be going from a ten-week break to maybe a five or six-week break, which will greatly hinder travel plans. Two is that this will make all kinds of summer activities for kids – camps, jobs, internships, what have you – basically impossible, for the same reason. Three, having more breaks during the academic year as well as having fewer opportunities to occupy kids during the summer will be an extra burden on working parents. Four, this will all naturally affect teachers and other school staff, and they will have their own objections. Some of these will carry more weight than others due to collective bargaining agreements.

So, to put it mildly, there are issues that would need to be worked out. Putting all of that aside, I don’t think this is a terrible idea, nor do I think it should be off the table even with these concerns about it. The chances that the school year will be disrupted by coronavirus, whether on a single-campus level or systemwide, are extremely high, and there needs to be a plan to handle that. Maybe this plan isn’t it, but maybe parts of it could be used in a modified version of it. Point being, we need to have something in place for when – not if – something happens, and we need to be making those plans now.