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December 13th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for December 13

An oral history of the demise of the Southwest Conference, 25 years later. I was there for that Rice-UH game, with the MOB as always. In fact, it’s one of the rare times when I wasn’t playing in the band but doing something else. The halftime show was basically a funeral, and I was tapped to be in the casket that was brought out onto the field as part of the show. I was dressed in a Brunhilde costume, and at the designated moment I emerged from the casket to portray “the fat lady singing”, thus signifying the end. (I had a stunt double who did the actual singing, into an off-stage microphone. I was just there for the visual.) Anyway, it’s a good trip down memory lane.

“Thawing permafrost is releasing microorganisms, with consequences that are still largely unknown”.

“If you want to see a close-knit cabal of self-styled experts picking our economy’s winners and losers by subsidizing their favorite unprofitable firms, which then drive more efficient competitors out of business by selling products at a loss — all while substituting their judgement for the judgments of millions of investors, making decisions without proper vetting, embracing fads, spending promiscuously, ignoring warnings from impartial experts, and handing economic power to charismatic liars — don’t look to Washington, D.C., in the age of Obama, but to Silicon Valley in the age of Adam Neumann. Or, more simply, to see how privatized central planning works, consider WeWork.”

“AI has cracked a problem that stumped biologists for 50 years. It’s a huge deal.”

“At almost every step of this pandemic, we have failed magnificently as a country. And in ways that we just really didn’t need to fail.”

“The crisis threatening the republic goes far deeper than bad acting lawyers. But a central threat to our public institutions is the lack of stigma which attaches to sowing public distrust in the electoral system or even trying to throw out or alter the results of election results you don’t like. We are all glad these efforts aren’t making much progress for this election. But the very attempt is an assault on our public institutions and our republic. For a democracy, willfully sowing doubt about integrity of an election is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

“The only thing Biden will have real control over is his administration and what it does. And his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible. Blitz.”

Dionne Warwick is your new queen of Twitter.

“But I know a little something about Grover Cleveland. And Donald Trump, you’re no Grover Cleveland.”

“Magic Castle, the exclusive club for magicians in Los Angeles, is facing accusations of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and racism leveled against its management, members and performers.”

RIP, Chuck Yeager, US Air Force officer and test pilot who first broke the sound barrier.

RIP, Dick Allen, MLB great who played for the Phillies and White Sox and belongs in the Hall of Fame.

RIP, Fred Akers, former UT football coach who succeeded Darrell Royal.

“The battle against pathogens reshaped the inner working of buildings, too. Take that familiar annoyance for New Yorkers: the clanky radiator that overheats apartments even on the coldest days of the year. It turns out that the prodigious output of steam-heated buildings is the direct result of theories of infection control that were enlisted in the battle against the great global pandemic of 1918 and 1919.”

RIP, Ray Perkins, former coach of the NY Giants and the University of Alabama.

RIP, Karl Kilian, owner of the Brazos Bookstore and co-founder of the Inprint literary non-profit.

“Over 80% of [restaurant] workers (83%) report that their tips have declined during COVID-19. This decline is severe: nearly two thirds (66%) report that their tips have declined by at least 50%.”

RIP, Deb Price, first nationally syndicated lesbian newspaper columnist. IIRC, her column ran in the Houston Post.

RIP, Sigmund Jucker, Holocaust survivor and co-founder of the iconic Three Brothers Bakery in Houston.

RIP, Charley Pride, first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Congratulations, you can still make the Elf table read to support Georgia Democrats in the Senate runoff.

Tarsha Jackson wins District B runoff

The long saga comes to an end.

CM-elect Jackson led early voting, and as of 9 PM was up by a 68-32 margin, about what the initial returns had. As of shortly after 9, Cynthia Bailey conceded the race. Here was a Chron story from yesterday morning that largely recapped The Story So Far, and another story that followed Bailey’s concession.

Thirteen months after the first round of voting, Houstonians in District B on Saturday finally picked their city councilperson.

Tarsha Jackson beat out Cynthia Bailey, whose 2007 felony conviction became cause for a lawsuit that stalled the runoff.

Saturday’s decision ended the long period of limbo, both for the candidates and residents of the district.

Bailey congratulated Jackson in a statement.

“I look forward to continuing to fight to solve neighborhood issues together,” Bailey said. “District B will benefit from her leadership. It’s time to get to work.”

Congratulations, Council Member-elect Tarsha Jackson. It was a long road to this point, but you have arrived.

STAAR yes, school ratings no

Seems like this is where we were always headed.

Texas public school students will still take the STAAR test this spring, but the state will not rate schools and districts based on their results, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday.

The announcement comes as districts report alarming numbers of students failing at least one class this fall and thousands of students who have not showed up to online classes or turned in assignments. In normal years, Texas rates its schools and districts on a scale from A through F, based in large part on the scores students receive on the standardized tests.

“The pandemic has disrupted school operations in fundamental ways that have often been outside the control of our school leaders, making it far more difficult to use these ratings as a tool to support student academic growth. As a result, we will not issue A-F ratings this school year,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Thursday in a statement.

[…]

Last spring, Texas applied for and received a waiver from the federal government allowing it not to administer the STAAR test. It is unclear whether President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will offer similar waivers in 2021.

See here and here for the background. I expect the incoming administration to be pretty understanding, and I am in favor of waiving all of this stuff until everything is well and truly back to normal. No need to make it any harder on the kids than it is already. The Chron and the Press have more.

We’re not #1, at least for now!

For the time being, probably not for very long, the most congested stretch of highway in Texas is not in Houston.

Traffic on the West Loop has always been a mess and now it has a ranking from Texas transportation experts to match: No. 2.

Loop 610 through Uptown has lost its top spot among the state’s most congested freeway segments to Interstate 35 in downtown Austin, falling to second place according to an updated list of the 100-most clogged roadways released Tuesday by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Texas Department of Transportation.

It ends a four-year streak of the Loop between Interstate 10 and Interstate 69 being considered the worst in the state — a distinction the segment easily could reclaim as construction of the Loop 610 and I-69 interchange continues and slows traffic.

“Somebody has to win and somebody finishes second,” said David Schrank, senior research scientist at TTI one of the list’s authors. “It’s just math.”

This year, Schrank said, the math was razor-thin by TTI’s standards, using hours of delay per mile annually as the measurement. I-35 and Loop 610 were separated by fewer than 20,000 hours of delay, each topping 1.6 million total hours stuck behind the wheel.

[…]

Schrank and others have said COVID gives them a rare glimpse into what happens when commutes are curtailed and the effects that can have on traffic. In the Houston area, while some segments of highways are back to their pre-pandemic levels, others remain about 10 percent of the typical traffic volume compared to 2019.

The effect has been segments that came to a standstill for six or seven hours a day — three hours in the morning and evening — are at their worst instead for three or four hours. Traffic experts who look at telework and flexible times to travel to offices say that demonstrates their potential.

“We can potentially take those peak periods and whittle the shoulders off them,” Schrank said.

Still, in many cases congestion is always evolving, Schrank said. A few decades ago most trips into the office in Houston meant a trip from a suburban spot to a parking garage in the central business district. Now, tens of thousands of office jobs are in Uptown along Loop 610, at I-10 west of Houston in the Energy Corridor and sprouting up along the Grand Parkway and Sam Houston Tollway ringing the city.

“They might not have the truck traffic delays you see in the top 15, but those core commute routes are still on the list,” he said. “One can go up and one can go down, but they stay there.”

Yeah, don’t worry, Houston still dominates the list, even if the #1 spot is not ours, at least for now. I will just add that working from home and not contributing to any part of this problem for most of the year is something I will greatly miss when we go back to our office.