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February 16th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for February 16

So how do ants drink water, anyway?

Among other things, gentrification is anti-gang.

Law and Order and computers, documenting history by the screenshot.

Ever wonder what judges wear underneath their robes?

Don’t smoke, y’all. Mr. Spock says so.

Forget Wal-Mart, Costco is the new battle line in the culture war.

Come to San Antonio for the culture and cuisine, stay for the high school robotics competitions.

On the enduring success of Ed Sullivan, and why that mattered for The Beatles.

“[M]yths about virginity, sex, and basic biology still pervade even among sexually active adults, and when those myths get reinforced by vacuums of reliable information and sexist messages ingrained in popular culture, they can have serious consequences for women’s health.”

“In other words, we experienced exactly the kind of unforeseeable, unpreventable medical crisis that any health plan is supposed to cover. Isn’t that the whole point of health insurance?”

“In other words, providing people access to healthier foods is not enough. Access is not sufficient.” More time in the day would also be nice.

I’ll totally be watching the Redshirts adaptation.

“The Republican Party isn’t trying to move to the center. It’s just trying to prevent abject idiots from running for Congress, especially in red hot media markets like Northern Virginia”.

The CBO is not to be trifled with.

RIP, Shirley Temple Black, former child star and US Ambassador.

“The great mystery of U.S. health care is why the country’s CEOs didn’t demand a single-payer system a long time ago.”

“So when Erick Erickson contradicts and rejects Peter’s interpretation of Peter’s vision, then I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to side with Peter.”

Ashley Wagner is your new McKayla Maroney.

Don’t let your boss lie to you about your health insurance costs.

“Because gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression. I know that how I played as a girl shaped who I am today.”

This will be Derek Jeter‘s last year. sniffle

“I believe the right to vote is on the same level as free speech and fair trials. And no one suggests that released felons should be denied either of those.”

Oh where, oh where has my moon rover gone?

Every Prince hairstyle, from 1978 through 2013. You’re welcome.

RIP, Sid Caesar. As always, Mark Evanier’s obit of him is worth reading.

“I find it a remarkable notion that McDonald’s can’t afford to pay an increase in the minimum wage but In-N-Out Burger can.”

Deficit scold, heal thyself. Or better yet, just go away. But not before we mock your cluelessness first.

More Mary Carillo, please.

“So there you have it. It’s not just that these Republican legislators are willing to side with a corporation against a union; it’s that when it comes to being pro-business or anti-union, they’ll choose anti-union.”

Get to know Dale Hansen, the Dallas sportscaster whose defense of Michael Sam went viral, a little better.

RIP, Ralph Waite. Good night, Pa.

#HealthPolicyValentines. Ain’t no humor like geek humor, ’cause geek humor don’t quit till the subject has been thoroughly examined.

RIP, Gemma Caramante. No, you don’t know who she is, unless you’re from my hometown of Staten Island. She was the great aunt of my best friend growing up, and a big part of my childhood who was every bit as kind and generous as described in that obituary. I wasn’t related to her by blood, but she was Aunt Gemma to me, too. Every kid should have an Aunt Gemma in their lives. Rest in peace, Zizi. We love you.

Nikki Araguz case reinstated

Good.

Nikki Araguz Loyd

A transgender woman who was denied benefits after her firefighter husband died in the line of duty will get another chance to litigate the case in a state district courtroom, the 13th Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

[…]

Nikki Araguz has been on feminizing hormone therapy since age 18 and in 1996 successfully petitioned the 245th state District Court of Harris County to have her name changed, court documents state. Later that year, she changed her birth certificate in California to change her gender to female.

She married Thomas Araguz in August 2008, after presenting a Texas driver’s license to the Wharton County Clerk’s Office stating she was female. At the time of the wedding, she still had male sex organs, but she underwent genital reassignment surgery two months later, court documents state.

[…]

As first reported Thursday in the San Antonio Express-News, the appellate court, based in Corpus Christi and Edinburg, voided the state district court judge’s summary judgment in favor or Thomas Araguz’s parents and ordered the case returned to the original courtroom for further litigation.

“… We conclude that the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding Nikki’s sex and whether the marriage was a same sex marriage,” Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez wrote in the 26-page ruling for the case.

See here and here for more on the case, and here for some background on Nikki Araguz. You can see a copy of the opinion here. Lone Star Q fills in some details.

State district Judge Randy Clapp issued a summary judgment declaring the marriage void in 2011. But on Thursday, the 13th District Court of Appeals threw out the summary judgment and remanded the case to Clapp for further proceedings.

“We conclude that this was an error because, on the record before us, the question of Nikki’s sex is a disputed issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment,” Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez wrote.

The opinion goes on to say that the Legislature passed a law in 2009 making proof of sex change one of the documents people can use to obtain a marriage license in Texas. According to the court, this law’s passage had the effect of overturning another state appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, in which a transgender widow’s marriage was declared void based on her birth sex.

The 13th District also said Clapp failed to give adequate weight to an expert’s affidavit saying Araguz has “gender dysphoria” and explaining the condition.

So the good news is that her case is alive and the courts recognized that Texas law allowed for her wedding to be legal. The bad news is that legality hinges on the question of whether she was female in the eyes of the state at the time, and the case will go back to the district court to settle that question. What fun that will be to litigate. The issue is complicated – needlessly so, since the state of Texas refuses to allow two consenting adults to just go ahead and get married if they want to – and I’m sure in the current environment it will be politicized by the kind of people who think their own lives will be ruined if people like Nikki Araguz have the same rights as they do. Still, this is a positive development, and I continue to wish Nikki Araguz all the best in her fight. The Dallas Voice has more.

HISD gets more diverse

Which in this case means it’s getting a little whiter.

After decades of free fall, Houston ISD’s white enrollment is inching upward, suggesting that more families with the resources to choose are selecting Houston public schools.

Enrollment of non-Hispanic white students in the Houston Independent School District bottomed out in 2010 at 15,340 students, or 7.6 percent of enrollment. White enrollment has increased by 13 percent since then, and today Houston ISD enrolls 17,313 white students, about 8.2 percent of a district that swelled to 210,000 with the recent absorption of neighboring North Forest, a predominantly African-American district.

Curbing so-called white flight is a major accomplishment for an urban school system, said Robert Sanborn, CEO of Children at Risk, a Houston-based nonprofit. Public schools are stronger when they reflect their city’s racial and economic diversity, he said. Roughly 25 percent of Houston’s population is white, meaning most white families continue to opt out of HISD.

“To me what’s remarkable is that we don’t show a loss like everybody else,” Sanborn said. “It’s absolutely counterintuitive.”

[…]

“It’s not a stampede, and it never has been, but it’s steady and it’s undeniable,” HISD school board member Harvin Moore said of the growing white enrollment.

Enrollment of Asian students also has increased each year since 2010; HISD now enrolls 7,401 Asians, or 3.5 percent of its overall student body.

I have kind of a distorted view of HISD, living as I do in the Heights. The article discusses how gentrification and the influx of new residents into the Heights, many of whom have kids and want them to attend neighborhood schools, has had a profound effect on the demography of Harvard Elementary School, but it could just as easily have used Travis Elementary as its example. I definitely agree with Bob Sanborn’s premise that public schools are better off when they more closely resemble the city they’re in. It’s not a good thing politically if you’ve got this large bloc of voters who feel like they have no stake in the schools, and therefore no real need to support them.

As it happens, Michael Li brought up this topic on Facebook the other day.

Remarkable stats: Of the nearly 11,000 ninth grade students in DISD, only 558 are Anglo. Of those Anglo ninth graders, a quarter go to just one school – Arts Magnet.

That makes DISD about five percent Anglo. Li got his stats from DISD’s public data portal. In a subsequent comment, he noted the percentage was even lower for fifth graders. Dallas County is less Anglo than Harris County is, but not by that much. Given the past history of official segregation in public schools, it’s more than a little unnerving to see such stark differences between the makeup of these school districts and the makeup of their larger communities. Thanks to the continued dynamism of Houston’s urban neighborhoods, HISD is bucking that trend. I hope that continues for awhile.

Complaint #3 against Judge Pratt

Greg Enos does not give up, y’all.

Judge Denise Pratt

With just days before early voting begins in the GOP primary, Webster family lawyer Greg Enos has filed a third criminal complaint against embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

The complaint, which details one of the 631 cases Pratt dismissed on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, accuses the freshman Republican judge — who is seeking a second term this year — of backdating an order in open court. It includes sworn affidavits from a couple who say Pratt informed them that she was “backdating this order” and screenshots indicating Pratt signed the order at an April 25 hearing, but dated it March 5.

Enos’ second criminal complaint, filed last month, alleges that Pratt broke the law by purging hundreds of cases last month without giving prior notice to lawyers or their clients. His first complaint against the district court judge, filed in October, accuses her of backdating orders in two unrelated cases. That complaint led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk and sparked an investigation by the DA’s office and a grand jury, which ultimately no-billed her.

Pratt, through her lawyer, blamed the backdating on her court clerks. Enos says it’s “totally different” this time.

“The last time was circumstantial. She was blaming the clerks,” he said. “If these two witnesses are willing to go into a grand jury and the (Harris County) District Clerk’s records back up what they say … I don’t know how she would not get indicted for this.”

See here for previous blogging on Judge Pratt. Houston Politics has a copy of the complaint and a few more details. This whole thing is just…wow. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Texpatriate has more.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Alameel

The Houston Chronicle makes a nice endorsement of David Alameel for the Democratic nomination for Senate.

David Alameel

David Alameel

David Alameel isn’t your usual political candidate. Most big money political donors don’t start like Alameel: a gas station attendant and farm laborer. But this Lebanese immigrant’s story of working his way up to the top by joining the Army, becoming a dentist and eventually selling his chain of dental offices in Dallas to a venture capital firm stands as an embodiment of the American dream. It is a tale that grows rarer every year, with skyrocketing costs of higher education and a middle class that’s losing the economic potential necessary to fuel our economy. That’s where Alameel puts his focus. “I don’t care what other issues are involved,” Alameel told the Chronicle. “You have to keep pushing education.”

His passion for the issues comes from his experience as an immigrant and as a father who married into an Hispanic family. For him, immigration policy isn’t just a topic for political debate, but something that he’s lived: citizens harassed by border patrol, grandmothers separated from their children, businesses that need hardworking laborers. It is a refreshing perspective in a campaign season filled with hyperbolic claims from folks who live their lives in sanitized suburbs.

While other Democratic candidates will hit the pavement to register and turn out voters in Texas’ big cities, Alameel says he wants to stay along the border and make sure that those folks vote not just in the primary, but in the general election. It is an admirable goal in a state with such low turnout.

They throw in a few nice words for Maxey Scherr at the end but concede that Alameel will be better funded. The Chron’s rather warm embrace stands in contrast to the Star Telegram, who also endorsed Alameel but wasn’t impressed with any of the Democratic candidates and mostly went with Alameel on the grounds that he might be able to have a reasonably well-financed campaign. I was going to say that the Chron endorsement of Alameel was the first major endorsement by someone other than an individual I’d seen, but a scan of his campaign Facebook page shows that he has been receiving a decent number of group endorsements around the state, and it included the link to the FWST editorial that I’d missed. Scerr, for her part, is quick to send out emails touting her endorsements, which recently included the San Antonio Express News and the Austin Chronicle.

Also in the Chron were a handful of judicial primary endorsements, with this one being of the most interest:

113th Civil District Court: Steve Kirkland

Steve Kirkland’s loss in the 2012 Democratic primary for the 215th civil district court stands as a case study in the pitfalls of a partisan elected judiciary. After serving for years as a dedicated and highly praised judge, Kirkland was challenged by an unqualified opponent whose campaign was almost exclusively funded from a single source – local plaintiff’s attorney George Fleming, who coincidentally had lost a major judgment in Kirkland’s court. The election was marred by underhanded attack ads, and the message to Harris County was clear: Justice is for sale.

Democracy should not go to the highest bidder. But history threatens to repeat itself. Fleming is at it again, bankrolling Kirkland’s only challenger in this race, Lori Gray. There is no question in this election. Democratic Party voters should send a message and put Kirkland back on the bench where he belongs.

A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Kirkland served for four years as a civil court judge and eight years as a municipal court judge. He may not have the backing of a big-dollar plaintiff’s attorney, but he does have the endorsement of the Houston Chronicle.

I noted Fleming’s financial involvement in my roundup of 30-day finance reports for county candidates. I hope the dynamics of the primary this time are more favorable to Kirkland, but we’ll see. The Chron made no recommendation in the Democratic primary for County Criminal Court at Law 10, and made endorsements in three Republican judicial primaries. I have to assume there are more of these to come, as there are quite a few other contested primaries, and I can’t believe the Chron won’t take the opportunity to weigh in on the GOP race for the 311th District Family Court, home of Judge Denise Pratt. We’ll see if they have more to say on these and a few other races, like SD15, as early voting gets underway.