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February 12th, 2023:

Weekend link dump for February 12

“I’d argue that a number of important fissures define the current House congressional GOP — and the embrace of Trump and Trumpism is just one of them. Voting records, ties to the establishment and caucus membership, for instance, all played a role in how I measured Republican House members against one another, drawing on data as well as expert opinion.”

“Whenever fears of technology-aided plagiarism appear in schools and universities, it’s a safe bet that technology-aided plagiarism detection will be pitched as a solution.”

It’s fun to think that Elvis Presley’s cousin could be elected Governor of Mississippi as a Democrat, but I’ll take the under on his chances.

“In short, white Christians in antebellum America did not come to accept slavery because of their biblicism. They became biblicists because of their prior acceptance of slavery.”

“The Years Of Vitriolic Misogyny At The Heart Of The Paul Pelosi Attack”.

“It’s Saturday night, so I will be a bit snarky: they need to get a grip. A key aspect of any country’s national security is spying, and of course China and the U.S. are spying on each other. Shooting the balloon down as soon as it was spotted would have endangered Americans and made learning anything from it more difficult.”

“That is to say, by most standard metrics, the U.S. economy is doing just fine. And the parts that have looked weak are directly related to how CEOs are feeling. About 98% of CEOs surveyed by the Conference Board going into the fourth quarter of 2022 said that they expected a U.S. recession. The reasons why are not entirely clear, but could be related to how the federal government has responded to recent inflation.”

Meet Ronnie Gajownik, the second female manager in the affiliated minor leagues and the first out LGBTQ person to have such a role.

RIP, Harry Whittington, Austin attorney and Republican activist best known for getting shot in the face by Dick Cheney.

Looks like you missed your chance to buy the National Enquirer on the cheap.

Everything you wanted to know about the 2023 MLB rule changes/a> but were afraid to ask.

“Major League Baseball, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and San Diego Studio are partnering to introduce legends from baseball’s Negro Leagues to MLB The Show 23.”

Things That Don’t Exist in ‘The Last of Us’ Universe (Because the World Ended in 2003)”.

RIP, Charlie Thomas, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with The Drifters.

“What Pete Buttigieg Could Do To Deal With The Horrors Of Air Travel In 2023″.

Still looking for the Tylenol murderer, forty years later. Hoping DNA can help.

“In recent years, Washington’s NFL team and Cleveland’s MLB team have finally dropped their racist mascots. But Kansas City in the NFL and Atlanta in MLB and Chicago in the NHL have avoided similarly broad calls for change. At least, for now.”

RIP, Burt Bacharach, legendary Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winning composer of many pop music hits.

Wait, so you’re telling me that James O’Keefe is a complete asshole? Boy, I never would have guessed.

RIP, Charles Silverstein, psychologist and therapist who played a key role in getting homosexuality declassified as a mental illness.

The big voter suppression law is even worse than you thought

Such a lovely little surprise tucked in there.

When state lawmakers passed a sweeping and controversial new election law in 2021, they quietly included a provision that drew little notice or debate.

But election administration experts say the measure is unprecedented, it mandates the purchase of voting technology that doesn’t currently exist — and it’s on the verge of costing taxpayers more than $100 million.

Sponsors of the provision said they aimed to prevent cheating in elections by prohibiting the use of modern technology to count votes and store cast ballot data. It passed without debate on a voice vote, and goes into effect just before the November 2026 general election.

When it does, millions of dollars’ worth of voting equipment will immediately be prohibited by the new law, a situation that could force at least some counties to hand-count ballots for lack of a legal alternative. Election officials across the state are worried they’ll be left without the tools necessary to safely deliver accurate and timely election results.

“Humans make mistakes. I’m very worried about the accuracy of our elections if we have to rely on a hand tally of votes,” said Chambers County Clerk Heather Hawthorne. “The inaccuracies would be huge and our state would be in trouble.”

Election security experts are also concerned. “You may be able to conduct an election but it would not be accurate, it would not be secure, and would not be timely,” said Ryan Macias, an election administration, security, and technology expert and founder of the elections consulting company RSM Elections Solutions. “With how complicated U.S. elections are, this is inconceivable.”

Here’s how it works now: With permission from the Texas secretary of state, election officials use media storage devices such as USB flash drives — provided by state-certified voting machine vendors — to collect data from ballot scanners used at precincts and voting centers on Election Day. Those drives are how officials easily and safely take that data on cast ballots to a central counting station, where they’re inserted into a tabulating computer to quickly gather results. The equipment involved is expensive, and elections officials reuse it each time an election is held, writing over the previous data with the new election data.

But the provision — proposed by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and supported by the then-bill’s primary author, Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) — prohibits the use of this exact kind of data storage device that can be reused, including the ballot scanners and the tabulating machines. Experts say that, in order to fully comply with the new law, counties would have to buy entirely new voting systems each election cycle.

Lawmakers knew that, or should have — the secretary of state’s office provided cost estimates before the bill passed.

According to those estimates, it will cost taxpayers more than $116 million to replace the eliminated equipment. Because any new machines cannot be reused — the data can only be “written once” — counties would be forced to continue buying new equipment. The secretary of state’s office estimates that this ongoing cost will be more than $37 million every two years.

And that’s if counties can even find compliant voting technology to buy. The Texas secretary of state’s office says the two Texas-certified voting machine vendors, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems & Software, also known as ES&S, do not currently build such machines. In fact, no machine matching the specifications has been invented by any company operating in the United States. Nonetheless, Hall’s provision requires states to have purchased and implemented the technology by Sept. 1, 2026.

Hall did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, nor did Hughes. In an emailed statement to Votebeat, Hall insisted his intention was “to provide an additional measure of security,” and that the technology would ensure that final counts represent voter intent. Asked how he’d achieve additional security by requiring counties to buy  nonexistent machines, he did not respond. Asked to offer his thoughts on the total cost to taxpayers, he did not respond.

Hall said much the same when he offered the bill on the floor in 2021. The provision would, he said, prevent votes from being “manipulated” between the precincts or vote centers and the central counting station. Hall provided no evidence of any instances of manipulation at the time, nor did he do so for this story. He also did not respond to questions about the practical application of the law.

There’s more, so read the rest. Of interest is that the story quotes election clerks from two rural Republican counties complaining about the cost of this provision. If you think it takes Harris County too long to count ballots now, imagine how much time they’ll need to do it by hand.

Anyway, Bob Hall is both one of the dumbest and most conspiracy-addled Senators out there, but this provision was supported by SB1 author Bryan Hughes as well, and he’s supposed to have a few working brain cells. The good news, if you want to be optimistic, is that there’s two sessions in which to fix this travesty. At least now we know it’s there. Getting someone on the Republican side to admit to it and try to deal with it, that’s the bigger challenge. Time’s a-wasting, y’all.

Marijuana decriminalization and other police reform proposals get closer to the ballot in San Antonio

This will be the most interesting election on the May ballot.

A proposed City Charter amendment that seeks to ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds, as well as expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes, has enough certified signatures supporting it to appear on the ballot in San Antonio’s May municipal election.

However, City Attorney Andy Segovia told reporters Wednesday the most of the provisions are inconsistent with state law and could not be enforced if even if they’re approved by voters.

Segovia said that if the amendment is approved, the city would not be able to make any other changes to its charter until the November 2025 election, thanks to a state law restricting the frequency of charter amendments. Mayor Ron Nirenberg had been assembling a charter review committee to explore other potential changes in the coming year.

As written the proposal, called the Justice Charter by its proponents, would ostensibly eliminate police enforcement of certain levels of marijuana possession, eliminate police enforcement of abortion-related crimes. It would also ostensibly ban the use of chokeholds by police, ban the use of no-knock warrants, create additional requirements to obtain a search warrant, and remove the officers’ discretion in whether to issue a citation or arrest for some low-level crimes.

With the exception of one provision calling for the creation of a city justice director, Segovia said the proposal’s elements “are all inconsistent with state law.”

“Therefore, even if the public does adopt the charter amendments, the charter amendments as written will not be enforceable,” he said.

See here and here for some background. The Current has a rebuttal to the “unenforceable” argument.

Mike Siegel — co-founder of progressive group Ground Game Texas, which backed the proposal — told the Express-News that the Texas Constitution grants municipalities the right to so-called “home-rule” authority.

Ground Game Texas championed a similar proposal approved by Austin voters last May that decriminalized weed in that city. Months later, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has yet to sue to stop it.

“We know that Ken Paxton loves to sue Austin, loves to make an example of Austin elected officials and has not done so,” Siegel told the daily. “And to me, that’s the strongest indication that the state attorney general himself has determined that cities do have this discretion, that it is firmly grounded in the home-rule authority that’s guaranteed by the Texas Constitution, and this is something that cities can decide for themselves.”

Well, sure, but the Republicans in the Lege, as well as the state courts, have not been shy about limiting cities’ authority in various matters, so I don’t know how confident I’d be in that position. For sure, if this passes, it will be litigated, and there is the possibility of a pre-emptive bill being passed against this even before then. Again, I want to stress, the goals that Act4SA and Ground Game Texas are advocating are good and laudable and I support them. I just don’t think this is going to work, and I have zero reason to believe that the Republicans will just let this slide if it passes. Restraint and tolerance for any kind of dissent are not in their playbook. I hope I’m wrong, and I’m confident we’ll find out if this does pass. SA’s City Council has to vote on it next week, and from there it’s off to the campaigns. If you’re in San Antonio, I’d love to hear from you about this, so please send an email or leave a comment.

Mammoths and dodos

How you feel about this will likely depend on how strongly you identify with that Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park.

“Finding a dodo bird…”

The Texas entrepreneur working to bring back the woolly mammoth has added a new species to his revival list: the dodo.

Recreating this flightless bird, a symbol of human-caused extinction, is a chance for redemption. It might also motivate humans to remove invasive species from Mauritius, the bird’s native habitat, said Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Colossal Biosciences.

“Humanity can undo the sins of the past with these advancing genetic rescue technologies,” Lamm said. “There is always a benefit for carefully planned rewilding of a species back into its native environment.”

The dodo is the third animal that Colossal Biosciences — which announced Tuesday it has raised $225 million since September 2021 — is working to recreate.

And no, the company isn’t cloning extinct animals — that’s impossible, said Lamm, who lives in Dallas. Instead, it’s focusing on genes that produce the physical attributes of the extinct animals. The animals it’s creating will have core genes from those ancestors, engineered for the same niche the extinct species inhabited.

The woolly mammoth, for instance, is being called an Arctic elephant. It will look like a woolly mammoth and contribute to the Arctic ecosystem in a way that’s similar to the woolly mammoth. But it will technically be an Asian elephant with genes altered to survive in the cold. Asian elephants and woolly mammoths share 99.6 percent of their DNA.


For the dodo, Colossal is partnering with evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, a scientific advisory board member for Colossal who led the team that first fully sequenced the dodo’s genome.

The dodo went extinct in 1662 as a direct result of human settlement and ecosystem competition. They were killed off by hunting and the introduction of invasive species. Creating an environment where the dodos can thrive will require humans to remove the invaders (the non-human invaders, anyway), and this environmental restoration could have cascading benefits on other plants and animals.

“Everybody has heard of the dodo, and everybody understands that the dodo is gone because people changed its habitat in such a way that it could not survive,” Shapiro said. “By taking on this audacious project, Colossal will remind people not only of the tremendous consequences that our actions can have on other species and ecosystems, but also that it is in our control to do something about it.”

The third species is the Tasmanian tiger. I missed the original mammoth story or I’d surely have mentioned it, since I have a longstanding interest in those critters. I’m not qualified to opine on the wisdom of all this, so I’ll just leave you with that aforementioned quote:

I embed, you decide. CNET has more.