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July 7th, 2019:

Weekend link dump for July 7

“Does anyone doubt that despite his seemingly good-faith call for Congress to eliminate gerrymandering, that any kind of national law seeking to overturn the practice would make its way back to the Roberts Court? Does anyone trust this court to do the right thing?”

“It has felt impossible, in the Trump era, to hope even for a second that our governing systems will operate on any standard of morality. What we have instead is a standard of consistency. If the President had ever convincingly espoused ideas of respect for people who are not like him, or of equal rights for women, it’s possible that he would be held accountable for his actions. Instead, he promised mass campaigns of cruelty against undocumented immigrants, and he is delivering. He said that he grabbed women by the pussy, and many women—twenty-two, so far—explained that, yes, he did that, or something like it, to them.”

Working Through Postpartum Depression While Working in Baseball”.

“Is this progress? Is this the future of cinema? Is this preferable to the days when a Wild Wild West–caliber turd had to languish in multiplexes for weeks on end, exposed as the indefensible flop it obviously was?”

The end times aren’t what they used to be.

The Yankees didn’t just win the two games in London, they won the all-important Baby Archie team onesie battle, too.

“ThinkProgress, the flagship news site of the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress, is up for sale.” I hope they find a good buyer, and soon.

How should we keep track of time in space?

“But it turns out that conservatives find it pretty exciting to be in power.”

We are running out of sand. No, what’s in the desert doesn’t count because it isn’t useful for the things we actually use sand for.

Sue Bird is a mensch. So is her girlfriend, Megan Rapinoe.

Three words: Giant prehistoric ostrich. You’re welcome.

“Historically, as in Jones’ case, personhood has been used in one direction, Goodwin notes: defining a fetus’s rights broadly when it comes to regulating women’s bodies and doing so loosely otherwise.”

RIP, Milton Quon, Disney animator who worked on Fantasia and Dumbo.

RIP, Lee Iacocca, automaker who headed Ford and Chrysler.

RIP, Arte Johnson, comedian and actor best known for Laugh In.

“One if by Land. Two if by Sea. Three if by the Delta Shuttle from LaGuardia.”

You should read what Mark Evanier has to say about the apparent demise of MAD Magazine. All I can say is that like many children of the 70’s, MAD shaped my sense of humor in profound ways.

RIP, Cameron Boyce, Disney channel star.

You want to be President, you’ve got to come to Houston

And so they are.

No Democratic candidate for president has won Texas in over 40 years, and yet the flow of Democratic contenders coming through the state, and Houston specifically, has been unusually strong in 2019.

Just since March, 14 of the Democrats running for the White House have already appeared at 26 different events in Houston. And that’s before 10 of the top contenders return on Friday afternoon to take part in a two-hour presidential campaign forum organized by the National Education Association.

“This is where the action is,” said DJ Ybarra, executive director of the Harris County Democratic Party. “This is where you need to be.”

For sure, Texas presidential primary elections loom large on March 3, especially as Democratic strength at the ballot box has grown in Harris County. But another reason is money.

[…]

The surge in fundraising in Houston mirrors what has happened at the ballot box. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lost Harris County by more than 100,000 votes. Four years later, Barack Obama won Houston by just over 19,000 votes. Even though she lost the state, Hillary Clinton won Harris County by 161,000 votes in 2016. Last year, in his U.S. Senate race, O’Rourke won Harris County by over 200,000 votes.

The dramatic shift of Harris County from a red county to blue is a major reason some politicians and pollsters are wondering if Texas is close to turning blue. According to a Quinnipiac University survey of Texas in early June, President Donald Trump trailed Biden by four percentage points. The president had 44 percent of the vote compared to Biden’s 48 percent.

Texas also plays a big role in the Democratic primaries. After the traditional first four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) vote in February 2020, Texas will be next up along with 14 other states voting on Super Tuesday March 3. If those first four states haven’t decided the race, Texas and its haul of delegates will put those who have been cultivating Harris County votes in a prime position.

I skipped over the money stuff because I’m more interested in the votes. Here’s a little table to consider:


Year      Harris     State    Harris%
=====================================
2008 P   407,102  2,874,986     14.2%
2008 G   590,982  3,528,633     16.7%

2012 P    72,665    590,164     12.3%
2012 G   587,044  3,308,124     17.7%

2016 P   222,686  1,435,895     15.5%
2016 G   707,914  3,877,868     18.2%

2018 P   157,121  1,042,914     15.1%
2018 G   700,200  4,045,632     17.3%

The numbers represent Democratic votes cast. As I’ve said before, I fully expect the 2020 primary to be like the 2008 primary, but more so. I think the over/under right now is for three million votes, which means we’re looking at something like 500K Dem primary voters here in Harris County. The Texas race is for sure going to separate the contenders from the (many, many) pretenders. So yeah, if you want a shot at the nomination, you’d better come to talk to Democratic voters in Harris County. There’s far too many of us to ignore.

(This doesn’t have anything to do with the main thesis of this post, but I want to state it for the record anyway: Hillary Clinton got more votes in Harris County than she did in 23 states plus Washington, DC. Harris County has about as many people as the state of Louisiana, so if we were our own state we’d have eight electoral votes. Put that in your Juul and vape it.)

Yeah, scooters are going to come to Houston

The question is when, not if.

Photo: Josie Norris /San Antonio Express-News

[E]ven though there’s a growing interest in alternate forms of transportation, you still can’t rent a scooter in Houston.

Maria Irshad, assistant director of the City of Houston’s Parking Division, said Houston’s infrastructure has had a lot to do with the lack of scooters. But with the development of new on-street bike lanes that may be starting to change.

“One thing Houston is doing, we’re taking a really cautious and deliberate approach to developing a program,” said Irshad. “So we’re watching what other cities do because this is a rapidly evolving form of transportation.”

[…]

Joe Deshotel is Texas Community Affairs Director for Lime, one of the companies hoping to do business here in Houston. He said they’re also trying to make up for past mistakes.

“When you have two or three companies that are professional and have the proper scaled operations for the city, then you really get the kind of program that you want,” said Deshotel.

As for Houston’s timetable for allowing scooter companies to operate, Irshad said there will be more public engagement later this summer. City Council will then have to draft an ordinance regulating scooters, and Irshad estimates we could see them on the streets next year.

I’m a bit embarrassed to realize that there’s been a letter to the Mayor with dockless mobility recommendations since October. It’s a fairly high level outline of proposed requirements for private operators of bikes and scooters and whatever else, and there’s an impressive list of stakeholders that helped put it together. Really, I’m just glad we’re not following the Uber/Lyft model of invade first and ask questions later, which happened in some other cities with scooters as well.

I’ve expressed doubts about how scooters would work here in Houston, as they don’t fit on sidewalks and seem to be in peril from motor vehicles on the road. That dockless mobility recommendations document partially addresses this in that they state that scooter speeds should be capped at 15 MPH. That’s basically what a pedal-powered bike does, for those of us in the non-Tour de France division, and in that case they’d be fine on the off-road bike paths. That still seems limited to me, and it occurs to me that maybe I just think there’s more danger on the streets for a scooter than for a bike. I’m sure we don’t have enough data to assess that, but maybe one of these days there will be a decent study. In the meantime, I concede that I may be overreacting. I look forward to those engagement sessions and to see what decisions Houston makes about scooters.

Do we still want to go to Mars?

Hot take: I dunno.

Before the U.S. put the first man on the moon, before the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, people thought aliens lived on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor.

The belief sparked fear in some — and outright panic when Orson Welles broadcast reports in 1938 of a Martian invasion drawn from the novel “The War of the Worlds.”

But it inspired others to question: Are we alone in the universe?

“Perhaps the single, most consuming scientific question of the space program is: ‘Does extraterrestrial life exist in our solar system?’” rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun wrote in a 1969 proposal to send humans to Mars.

In the decades since, even after scientists concluded the aliens of science-fiction fame do not live on Mars, the Red Planet has captivated the world’s imagination unlike any other.

It’s been the subject of countless movies, books and TV shows. It’s been an inspiration for folklore. And it’s been a desired destination for dreamers — a barren, dusty terrain that could offer scientists a look at what may lie ahead for Earth.

But a human mission to the Red Planet was out of reach in the 1960s. And it remains elusive today.

Top NASA officials have tentatively aimed for a human mission to Mars in 2033, but even they admit that timeline is aggressive. NASA still needs to develop a spacecraft capable of transporting humans to Mars; a method of propulsion to cover the distance more quickly; and a surface-landing vehicle that can handle the Martian climate.

Can NASA get it done in 14 years?

“I don’t know,” replied Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“It’s a function of how much (progress) the program can make,” he told the Houston Chronicle in April. “The technology and the hardware is reasonable, but can we get the budget? That I don’t know.”

Some question going at all. The U.S. already has successfully landed eight robotic missions on the Red Planet.

“It’s kind of questionable about what there is to be gained,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham told the Chronicle. “You have to find some rationalization and justification in order to spend what it costs to go to Mars.

“I think that’s a long shot right now.”

On the one hand, I think there’s a lot to be learned by planning and executing a manned flight to Mars. I feel like as much as private firms are now in the space business, the public sector needs to continue to have a strong presence, if only to ensure that the knowledge gained by space travel remains in the public sphere. On a strictly parochial level, someone is eventually going to do this, and I’d rather it be the US than China or Russia.

Against that, it’s fair to question the value of the knowledge we’d get from a manned flight versus an unmanned flight. This would cost a ton of money at a time when there are higher priorities. It’s far from clear that this is something the public wants, and this is one of those times when having the President get behind it would not help at all. (I felt a little queasy just typing that out.) The idealist in me would love to see this happen. The pragmatist is far from convinced.