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March 15th, 2014:

Saturday video break: All I Want

Just because two songs have the same name it doesn’t mean they’re the same song. In theory there’s an unlimited number of possible song titles, but in practice there are a lot of reruns. Example #2 from my collection is “All I Want”. Here’s what Susanna Hoffs did with that song title:

Back in the day (and by “back in the day” I mean “back in the 80s, because what else would I mean?) I didn’t think much of the Bangles. They struck me as a disposable prefab pop group that disappeared after their first album. I was surprised to learn years later what a talented musician she is, both as a solo act and in tandem with Matthew Sweet. If you’re into covers, their three “Under The Covers” CDs are worth checking out. Now here’s Toad The Wet Sprocket doing a completely different song called “All I Want”:

I’m pretty sure I heard this song a bunch of times on the radio without ever knowing what its title was or who sang it. I don’t know why radio stations do that. Anyway, now I know. What songs did you hear on the radio for a long time before you found out what they were?

Add Tennessee to the list

A partial win, but the rest will follow.

RedEquality

A federal judge here granted a preliminary injunction Friday against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in certain instances.

In October three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit asking the state to recognize their marriages that had been performed in states where gay marriage is legal. The four couples taking part in the suit were living and had been married in New York or California but had moved to Tennessee.

“At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs’ marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history,” Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in the order.

Friday’s U.S. District Court ruling applies only to these three couples.

Nashville lawyer Abby Rubenfeld, who represents the couples, cheered the legal win and said it was a good first step toward total equality for all same-sex married couples in Tennessee.

Buzzfeed has the opinion, which leaned heavily on the one in Kentucky that made the same ruling. The Tennessean has more about the lawsuit and the couples that were the plaintiffs. The next step is a lawsuit to overturn Tennessee’s anti-gay marriage amendment, and there’s been no trouble recruiting more plaintiffs for that. Another step forward for equality, and another step towards the inevitable at the national level.

The case for Kinky

The Trib sums up the reasons for voting for the Kinkster in the runoff.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

The race for agriculture commissioner is far down the list, both in terms of voter interest and the interest of people who write checks to political campaigns. It is the backwater of state politics, which makes it a great place for a candidate who is well known and doesn’t need the help of the financial people to get the attention of voters.

Miller and Merritt have never run statewide races. Friedman ran for governor in 2006 in a pack that included Republican Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell and Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn (who has since divorced and changed her last name back to Rylander). Friedman finished fourth.

Let us argue the case on behalf of the Republican candidates.

One, Friedman got decimated in the 2006 race even though — and perhaps because — the voters knew who he was.

Two, it’s a Republican state, and the Democrats are unlikely to win, especially with a candidate who can be difficult to take seriously.

Three, Friedman’s idea of legalizing marijuana and making it a cash crop in Texas is out of the mainstream and cannot possibly be a winning issue in a Texas election.

The other side? He is better known than either Miller or Merritt. They, like Friedman himself, have been rejected by voters, and the deficiencies that made their opponents successful are there for new opponents — like Friedman — to exploit.

It will be hard for all of the candidates to raise money — an advantage for the best-known candidate, as long as it’s not a bank robber.

Marijuana — if it doesn’t turn off the voters — sets Friedman’s campaign apart. It’s something for voters who are not otherwise interested in the Texas Department of Agriculture to talk about. Public opinion is shifting; the governor recently talked about decriminalizing pot. Perry is not for legalization, but decriminalization is a long way from the zero-tolerance policies that were in vogue a few years ago.

We’ve covered this before. Other than the Trib’s mention that Kinky could highlight his differences with the state Democratic Party as a general campaign theme, there’s nothing new there. Either you buy into the idea of Kinky as a viable and potentially successful candidate, or you’d sooner French kiss an electric outlet. I can’t say either of these views are wrong, but if you vote in the runoff – and you should come out to vote for David Alameel, because Kesha Rogers must be stopped – then you’ll have to decide how you feel about this.

HPD crime lab update

The man who wrote the report detailing all of the HPD crime lab’s problems was back to give a progress report on how things look now.

Michael Bromwich

Houston police managers at the once-shuttered crime lab have failed to re-examine tests on DNA, blood and most other forensic evidence on a random basis to ensure the results are accurate, according to a follow-up report by the nationally known forensic expert hired to investigate the facility.

The crime lab, under Houston Police Department management, continues to outsource several integral testing services common for the lab, including a type of firearms testing that determines how far a gun was from a target when it was fired, Michael Bromwich’s report noted. That information is crucial in the investigation of officer-involved shootings.

But overall, Bromwich concluded, HPD has done a “responsible job” implementing many recommendations he made in 2007 following an extensive, two-year investigation after the lab was closed due to flawed testing procedures and practices.

“We were very encouraged with what we saw in our review of the crime lab,” Bromwich said this past week. “The most pronounced improvement was the quality of senior managers in the lab.”

Bromwich also said the city’s lab, at the police headquarters building at 1200 Travis, is not big enough for the current workload and needs a “significant” amount of additional space. City leaders said they have no plan to move the facility, although some on City Council favor merging operations with a new forensic center being built by Harris County.

[…]

Bromwich was hired by the board of the Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corp. , with the help of a $75,000 grant from a Houston foundation, to determine if changes his team suggested in 2007 have been implemented.

“There is still room for improvement … we think with the right resources devoted to it, and the right leadership, the lab can improve still more,” Bromwich said.

The TL;DR version of this story is “Much better now. Some things still need to be done. More money is needed to get those things done.” The original report is still here, if you’ve never looked at it or want to refresh your memory. Merging the HPD lab with the new Harris County facility would likely help resolve a number of the remaining issues from the Bromwich report. Mayor Parker has been adamant that she wants the Harris County lab to be fully independent of the District Attorney’s office before she will let that happen. I continue to believe there’s room for a solution to be worked out. I’d love to see it happen before her term in office ends.

Dodson to be closed, Jones to be revamped

In the end, only one school was closed by HISD, but a lot of people are still upset about the whole thing.

During a rowdy meeting where police had to quiet shouting protestors, the Houston school board narrowly agreed Thursday to close Dodson Elementary but accepted a compromise plan that would turn the long-struggling Jones High into a specialty vocational school.

Many in the crowd focused their anger on Superintendent Terry Grier, calling for his firing, during the most raucous board meeting in years.

[…]

Grier’s initial closure proposal, unveiled four weeks ago, would have shut down five small schools. But [Juliet] Stipeche, using her power as board president, scaled the potential closure list to two schools after community members packed a series of public meetings to complain and a couple dozen people marched outside Grier’s condominium one weekend.

Grier had said closing Jones High and Dodson Elementary were his priorities, saying the district needed to use the facilities to house students from other schools due to be rebuilt under the 2012 voter-approved bond issue.

The idea of closing schools so they could serve as temporary “swing space” for other students didn’t sit well with many.

In the end, the school board agreed on a 5-4 vote to close Dodson Elementary, which enrolls about 445 students this year. The building likely will be used to house students from the district’s Energy Institute High School while it is rebuilt.

[…]

Under the compromise plan for Jones, passed on a 6-3 vote, the school would become a specialty campus focused on career readiness. It would be modeled after other “Futures Academy” programs that the district has started in other high schools, allowing students to work toward industry certification or associate’s degrees.

Students zoned to Jones would get priority in admissions, but the specialty school would be open to students across the district. The Jones students who don’t want to attend will be rezoned to Worthing and Sterling high schools. All are under-enrolled, with Jones falling to about 440 students this year.

The new Jones would not have athletics, a point of contention for some. Students could play for their zoned schools.

While many said they supported the compromise plan for Jones, James Douglas, a longtime officer for the NAACP of Houston, said he did not. He joined others in expressing frustration that Stipeche, the board president, limited speakers to one minute each because more than 80 had signed up to speak on the closures alone.

“I would say HISD is broken and you need to come up with some mechanism not just to hear the community, but really to listen what they have to say,” Douglas told the board. “And you can’t listen to what anyone has to say in one minute.”

See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure this isn’t the end of the story, though it’s unclear to me what comes next. The one thing I do know, which hasn’t been mentioned in the coverage so far, is that I truly hope HISD will keep track of the Dodson and Jones students that are directly affected by this to see how their performance fares going forward, just as I have hoped that they will closely monitor the former North Forest students. Whatever the demographic case may be, if closing a school or significantly changing it turns out to have a negative effect on the existing students, it should make districts very reluctant to do that. Dodson is hardly the first school HISD has closed during Terry Grier’s tenure, and I have no idea if any of those students were tracked post-closure. It would be nice to know more about the data we already have, if in fact we do have it. Regardless, given the strong feedback this has generated, the least HISD can do is keep us informed about the consequences – good, bad, or indifferent – of their actions. Hair Balls has more.