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November 4th, 2017:

Saturday video break: Sledgehammer

Here’s Fifth Harmony:

As you may surmise, they’re one of those artists I know about thanks to my kids. They have several songs I like, this one included, so that’s a win. Those of you who aren’t millennials or proximate to kids are probably more familiar with Peter Gabriel’s song of the same name:

A true MTV classic, which I figure had to be a pain to make. Also, sex metaphors are sexy. And metaphorical.

Second trimester abortion lawsuit hearings begin

Deja vu all over again.

Texas abortion providers argued in court Thursday that it is not medically necessary to require women to undergo injections or other procedures in order to comply with a new state law restricting the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.


Dr. Mark Nichols, an Oregon-based doctor, called the dilation and evacuation procedure the safest method to perform a second-trimester abortion. Nichols argued the three most common procedures used to kill the fetus before performing the abortion are often complicated to perform, require extra training and are not always effective. He also believes they are not medically necessary.

“There is a real failure rate in the procedures we described,” he said.

If a similar law to SB8 existed in Oregon, Nichols said he would hesitate to perform the dilation and evacuation procedure out of fear that the fetus may still be alive, and he would then violate the law.

Under SB8, doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban, except in a case of a medical emergency. The law was set to go into effect Sept. 1, but Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order which remains in effect.

Nichols said doctors may end up having to experiment on patients “to figure out how not to violate the law.”

According to 2015 data, the latest available, the procedure was used 4,386 times to terminate a pregnancy. In total, 55,287 abortions were performed that year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for Friday coverage. The Trib had a story from before the hearings began, if you want more background. We all know that this is a multi-year process that will end up before the Supreme Court, and along the way the Fifth Circuit will rubber stamp the state’s law under whatever pretext it feels like using. It’s like the NBA regular season, where the real action is in positioning oneself for the final showdown. All I can say is that I’ve had a few medical procedures in my time, including a few surgeries, and I’m damn glad the state of Texas hasn’t tried to intervene in the treatment. I don’t want them to make medical decisions for my doctors, and I don’t want them making medical decisions for other people’s doctors. Not sure why this is so hard to understand.

Tracking earthquakes

It’s a thing.

Texas, home to two of the nation’s busiest oilfields, now has a new way for the public to track in real time how many earthquakes are rattling the Lone Star State since the expanded use of new drilling techniques.

TexNet, which the University of Texas said is the nation’s most advanced state-run seismic monitoring system, includes 22 permanent monitoring stations and another 40 that are portable. The system was formed in 2015 thanks to $4.47 million in state funding.

The Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas continue to see some of the nation’s strongest drilling activity. Those regions, along with the Dallas-Fort Worth area, have all seen an increase in earthquakes, according to a statement earlier this month from the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology.

“Small earthquake events have become more common in Texas recently,” Scott Tinker, director of the bureau, said in the statement. “We are now positioned to learn more about them and, hopefully, to understand how to mitigate their impacts in the future.”

The UT Bureau of Economic Geology press release about this is here, and the official TexNet webpage, at which you can get all the data, is here. It would be nice to live in a world where this wasn’t needed, but it is so you may as well be aware of it. Texas Monthly has more.

Houston Press ceases print operations

End of an era.

Voice Media Group announced today that the Houston Press ceased print publication with its November 2 edition, capping a 28-year run as one of the nation’s leading alternative weekly newspapers and concluding a wild ride as an irascible and irreverent part of Houston’s cultural fabric.

Although the Press successfully steered its way through turbulent times in the newspaper business over the past decade thanks to a strong online presence, in the end its print operations proved no match for Hurricane Harvey. The devastation wrought by that record-setting storm, the worst disaster in the city’s history, was the primary factor behind VMG’s decision to take the Press to a daily, web-only format, said VMG group publisher Stuart Folb.

“The loss in print revenue we suffered as a result of Harvey and the time it might conceivably take for that print business to come back was the final straw,” said Folb. “Thankfully we’ll be able to continue covering Houston with a streamlined approach online.”

Folb noted that the Press is the first VMG publication to move strictly online. He added that veteran Press editor-in-chief Margaret Downing will stay on to oversee the online operation, working with many of the same freelance writers readers have followed over the years and publishing fresh daily content consistent with the Press’s longtime mission of covering Houston news, food, music and culture.

I haven’t picked up a print copy of the Press in awhile – for what it’s worth, there just aren’t that many places I frequent in the course of my week that carried the Press, and like most people, I consume most of my news online now – but I’m sad to see this happen. The aforementioned Margaret Downing offers her obituary to the print edition.

[Hurricane Harvey] was the topper. The massive flooding destruction it caused appeared to directly target restaurants and the arts community – some of our biggest advertisers – who faced with declining revenues of their own found they had other, more pressing expenses to consider.

Despite all the millions of people who read us each month, or all the journalism awards we’ve won, or the successful public events our marketing department has presented, the fact is, we haven’t been making enough money to sustain ourselves in print and our parent company Voice Media Group decided it could no longer afford to be our enabler.

A new streamlined Houston Press will emerge starting next week, still presenting the cutting edge journalism that readers aren’t likely to get elsewhere, still questioning the status quo while highlighting what we think is great about Houston. The difference will be that a sole editor will be working with freelancers to produce editorial copy, rather than having a staff on hand.


When we eventually moved to an online component there was a huge adjustment as well. Suddenly we were back in the game – some of the staff for the first time in their careers – of responding quickly, of answering the bell, collecting thoughts rapidly while still writing clearly and cleverly.

As it turned out in most cases the online demands helped everyone become better, sharper writers. Readers engaged with us in ways they hadn’t in the past. Posts online led to tips that took us to larger stories. Photographs looked better online than they could ever look on newsprint. Cover stories found new homes in one of our four posting areas – food, news, arts and music – and Best of Houston was there to see for all time, not just a once-a-year special event.

Did I want to see the end of the print edition, the dreaded either-or instead of publishing in both forms? Well, of course not. Who wants to be the editor whose printing press was shuttered? Where was Warren Buffett when I could really have used him to swoop in?

But it is what it is. Our parent company could have killed this publication completely. Instead it listened to our Publisher Stuart Folb and kept it alive in digital form, with the company’s successful new digital advertising agency helping to buoy the new model.

A lot of good people here will no longer have jobs at the Houston Press and that for me is the saddest and most painful part.

Nearly all of our employees were handed their termination papers today. In several cases, whole departments are gone. These are people who in most cases worked above and beyond because they really liked working here, liked the camaraderie, the clients, the interesting people they got to meet.

In the newsroom that means that reporters who were more than competent, who could negotiate the most complicated business documents or talk with sensitivity to people who were going through the worst days of their lives – journalists with passion and discernment whose work has changed lives for the better — are suddenly without a platform, or a paycheck.

We rely upon a sizable number of freelance photographers, graphic artists and videographers whose work is also highly valued. This change will also affect them in the number of assignment opportunities available.

I feel terrible for the employees who are being laid off – that just sucks. I hope they are given some help to find other work. Harvey aside, the Village Voice ceased print operations a few weeks back, and if a venerable alt-weekly like that can’t make it work these days, it’s hard to see how anyone else can. Someone please keep an eye on the Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Current, and Dallas Observer. I have several friends who write for the Press but as freelancers, so they are probably not affected. For what I do, the Press does a lot of good work, though their publication schedule for regular news stories is kind of unpredictable. I wish them all the best, and look forward to seeing what comes next.