Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 19th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for May 19

Turns out “tiger” parenting isn’t such a good idea.

When pirate costumes go wrong.

Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. Oh, and they should put those damn smartphones down and get off my lawn already.”

Please turn off your portable electronic devices prior to takeoff. Unless you don’t feel like it. Really doesn’t matter much one way or the other.

President Obama would like to use 3-D printers to make weapons, too. Someone alert Steve Stockman.

I realize we’re coming to the end of the school year, but this advice on how to get along with your child’s teacher is still timely.

Rand Paul is at least as nuts as his father.

“The Benghazi attacks (the consulate and the CIA compound) are absolutely not unprecedented even though they’re being treated that way by Republicans”.

It’s time for passwords to die. The current system is insecure and unmanageable.

“To put it bluntly, we will see far more handgun deaths due to black market firearms this week than we will see from 3D printed guns in our entire lifetime.”

The UN thinks we should eat more bugs. That sound you hear is Ted Cruz’s head exploding.

“It is, as you might expect, the biggest pile of direwolf excrement I’ve seen on the internet this week.”

There’s a long list of reasons why “racecraft” is a disreputable field of study.

RIP, Dr. Joyce Brothers, pop psychology pioneer.

“Today’s CBO estimate puts the deficit at 2.1 percent of GDP by 2015. Simpson-Bowles called for reducing the deficit to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2015. So we got beyond their recommendation without punishing any old people or cutting taxes even more for the wealthy and corporations. Go figure.”

RIP, Billie Sol Estes, the kind of flamboyant Texas con man they don’t make anymore.

“Still, the fact that the right is being forced to fall back from predicting a staggering rise in health-care costs to explaining away the staggering decline in health-care costs represents real progress.”

“The whole “second term curse” narrative is mostly a media construct, but it’s actually a self-perpetuating one.”

“There is a scandal in all of this—several, actually, and some are more significant than the one that is getting all the attention.”

Ten real world princesses who don’t need Disney makeovers.

If writing that the “great, deluded middle class–subsidized by the government and coddled by politicians” needs to experience a decade-long siege of high unemployment isn’t “get[ting] off on other people’s suffering”, I don’t know what “getting off on other people’s suffering” could possibly mean.

House approves charter expansion bill SB2

A big step forward for those who would like to see more charters.

Senate Bill 2 passed on a 105-34 vote on second reading. It now faces a third reading before it can be reconciled with a similar version the Senate passed last month.

“I think the bill supports quality charters, helping them to expand and grow but at the same time helping to shut down the poor performers,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

Its author, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has called SB2 the most comprehensive charter school legislation since the state introduced the publicly funded and privately run schools in the 1990s. Previous efforts to change the system made it through the Senate but failed to gain traction in the House.

The bill would update rules on the renewal, expansion and revocation of charters, raising the current cap of 215 charters that can be authorized at any one time by allowing an additional 10 per year up to a total of 275 by 2019. Charter holders may operate multiple schools under a single charter.

It would also tighten nepotism rules – an amendment exempts current employees – and give operators the right of first refusal on the lease or purchase of unused facilities in traditional public school districts.

[…]

The House adopted other amendments, including one requiring teachers at charter schools to hold bachelor’s degrees and another requiring the majority of a charter’s board members to be “qualified voters.”

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, introduced the latter amendment, saying it was not aimed at any particular charter operator. Critics of the Harmony Public Schools charter network have complained to lawmakers in the past about the presence of Turkish citizens among Harmony leadership.

Since the House adopted amendments that make the bill differ from the one that the Senate passed, it has to go through a conference committee and get re-passed by each chamber. I don’t expect that will cause any problems, but sometimes strange things happen in the last days of a session. Trail Blazers and the Observer have more.

Michael Morton Act signed into law

Excellent news.

With exoneree Michael Morton by his side, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a measure that aims to avoid wrongful convictions by preventing prosecutors from suppressing evidence.

“This is a major victory for integrity and fairness in our judicial system,” Perry said of Senate Bill 1611, which was named for Morton, who spent 25 years in prison before being exonerated. It was the governor’s first public signing ceremony of the session.

[…]

Under SB 1611, prosecutors will be required to turn over evidence to defendants accused of crimes and to keep a record of the evidence they disclose. The landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland already requires prosecutors to give defendants information that is “material either to guilt or to punishment.” The Morton Act requires disclosure of evidence regardless of its materiality to guilt or punishment. It is the first significant reform to Texas discovery laws since 1965.

[…]

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who co-authored the bill with state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said the bill’s passage represented “an important milestone in the journey toward justice in Texas.” Duncan said the legislation would help preserve liberty in the state.

After signing the bill, Perry handed Morton the pen he used to do it, and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, presented Morton with the gavel used to mark the passage of the bill in the House.

Well done all around. When SB1611 was first introduced, it was opposed by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association on the grounds that it would have also required defense attorneys to open their files to discovery, much like prosecutors are required to do. I hadn’t followed this bill very closely so I wasn’t sure if the TCDLA was now on board with SB1611 – their website and Facebook page give no indication that I could find. I eventually found a comment by TDCLA President-elect Bobby Sims on this Grits post (scroll all the way down; Sims’ handle is Longhorn74) which makes it clear that in the end the TDCLA did support SB1611. All’s well that ends well. It would be nice if there were an equally happy ending for HB166, the bill to establish an Innocence Commission, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. One step at a time, I guess.

Making downtown parking easier

Makes sense.

NoParking

In downtown Houston, there are about 3,200 parking spaces on the street – and a whopping 5,800 signs drivers must decipher to use them without getting towed or ticketed.

Aiming to fix this “confusing mishmash of signs,” as Mayor Annise Parker put it, City Council on Wednesday approved a $1.3 million contract with a Houston firm that will spend the next year removing signs and replacing them with a standardized set.

The types of parking signs posted downtown will drop from 120 to as few as 16.

“The goal is to have people be comfortable coming downtown knowing where they can park and not having a nasty surprise with their car being towed,” Parker said. “The theory apparently was previously that it’s better to have specific signs to say, ‘On this block you can do this between these hours.’ I don’t believe that. I think there ought to be consistency across downtown.”

Downtown Management District staff spent a week in a golf cart traveling streets, cataloging and photographing parking signs. The list showed, for example, at least 22 different versions of the same “no parking” message. In some places they found five or six signs stacked on the same post pointing in various directions, in what Councilman James Rodriguez called a befuddling “totem pole.”

Such proliferations of placards make it easy to miss the one that applies to you, Parker said, adding that the city also must keep curbs painted yellow in no-parking areas.

“I don’t want any ‘gotchas’ out there,” she said. “We want people who come downtown for a festival to have a great time at the festival and go back and find that their car is still in the same place they left it. Hear me: My goal is to write fewer parking tickets in downtown Houston and encourage everybody to come down and have a good time.”

I think everyone who has parked downtown has experienced this. It’s a welcome effort, and one that is not without cost to the city – as noted elsewhere in the story, the city collects $9.1 million from parking tickets but only $6.1 million from parking meters. Clearly, this is part of the recent focus on downtown retail, to help remove one of the obstacles to successful retail downtown by making people feel less confused and intimidated by the parking situation. I don’t know how much difference it will make, but it can’t hurt. Oh, and turning the old signs into an art project is all kinds of awesome. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. KUHF has more.

By the way, tacked on to the very end of the story is a note that Council approved the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ. You’d think after all the buildup leading to that vote that it might have warranted its own story, but apparently not. I understand that CM Helena Brown did vote no. That isn’t newsworthy anymore, either.

Where are all the teenage drivers?

There’s a lot less of them than there used to be.

TDL_Sample

Between 2001 and 2010, Texas added only 2,578 drivers age 16 to 21 while the age group grew by more than 238,000 statewide, dropping the percentage with a license from 62.4 percent to 55.9 percent.

Young adults who drive are doing so less often, researchers said, following a decade-long trend of higher gas prices and fewer young adult drivers.

Young people and transportation experts cite a variety of reasons why obtaining a driver’s license, once a rite of passage for any youngster, is becoming less important.

“Their status symbol, and maybe their focal point of choice, is their phone and the device they carry,” said Russell Henk, program director for the Teens in the Driver’s Seat program, a safety campaign created by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “A car, 10 to 20 years ago, was the way to get together. Not anymore.”

The economy, and the need to lower costs by reducing gas consumption, is part of the reason for the drop, which officials say has yielded safety benefits.

“That has been a clear reason why we have seen a decrease in fatal crashes for that age group,” Henk said.

Fatalities for young drivers dropped dramatically between 2007 and 2010, including a 47 percent drop in fatalities for 16- and-17-year-olds, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Preliminary data for 2012, however, shows road fatalities among young people might be on the rise.

Some suggest environmental consciousness is convincing young adults to ditch their gas-guzzling cars when possible, or to bike or walk to get some exercise.

Classes are being taught via webcast, goods can be bought without driving and friends can connect online from their respective homes. Even the workday commute can be erased.

“We live in a world where productivity is valued over placement,” said Taylor Kilroy, a University of Houston Law Center student and head of the school’s Energy and Environmental Law Society. “If an employee can produce the same quality work from home, why not allow them to work instead of being stuck in traffic?”

The trend nationwide goes farther back than 2001, and there’s not a strong consensus on the reasons for it. The economic downturn certainly contributed to the steeper decline of the past few years, but there’s more to it than that. This Grist story from 2010 gets at some of the other reasons.

Consider, for example, the fact that teen employment has been falling for most of the last decade. In 1978 (the beginning of the period that Advertising Age looks at) about 48 percent of driving-age teens in the U.S. held a job. By 2008, that number had fallen to 33 percent, and it now stands at just 26 percent. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) And while I couldn’t find reliable stats on the relationship between teen employment and teen driving, it’s easy to believe that falling employment meant that teens had less reason to drive, and also less money to pay for cars and gas.

Likewise, the fall in teen employment coincided with both an increase in college attendance, and a decline in the real earning power of minimum wage work, particularly in the 1980s and the early- to mid-2000s. Rising college attendance may have have contributed to a decline in the need to drive, while falling minimum wage earnings reduced teens’ purchasing power.

And then consider the effect of rising oil prices. The chart below shows the difference 1970 and 2008 — a different period than Advertising Age looked at — but the lesson is pretty clear: By 2008, it was taking an awful lot of time for a young worker to earn enough money to fill the tank.

I was a teenage driver nearer the beginning of the period in question. I got my license in New York when I was 17, but most of the driving I did back then was of the weekend and summertime variety, because I didn’t have my own car and I wouldn’t have driven to school even if I did – I went to high school in Manhattan, so driving would have been really expensive, and there was no place to park. I lived on campus as a college student, and didn’t have a car till midway through my junior year, when I inherited my grandmother’s car after she passed away. So my experience tracks with what that Grist article suggests – I did most of my driving between the ages of 17 and 21 during the summer after I graduated high school, when I had a job that I couldn’t get to via public transportation. Otherwise, I just didn’t need a car that much.

I think the key to understanding this trend is to see if driving among people in their 20s, especially those who came of driving age during the tough economic times of recent years, also declines. If so, then we may be seeing a long-term shift that might have implications for our road capacity needs of the future, among other things. If not, it’s probably no big deal. See The Highwayman and EoW for more on related topics.