Texas student loses ID-badge case

The Texas student who sued over her school's insistence that she wear an RFID-embedded ID card has lost her appeal. The school had offered to issue her an RFID-free ID badge, but her family felt that the ID badge itself was related to the "mark of the beast" and asked the court to find that their religious freedoms were being infringed. The court disagreed. Cory

68,000 Texans no longer have to prove they're not dead in order to vote

68,000 Texans will no longer have to prove that they aren't dead in order to vote in the next election. The state of Texas has settled a suit brought on behalf of 68,000 "potentially deceased" Texas voters who shared a birthdate and a partial Social Security match with a person appearing on a federal death register. These people will now be able to vote, unless Texas can prove they're dead. Another 12,000 voters will still have to prove that they're not dead before casting a ballot. More from Lowering the Bar:

Under the previous rules, voters were identified as "potentially deceased" if there was at least a "weak match" (such as a birth date plus a partial Social Security number) between their information and the federal death records the state was consulting. The weakly matched dead made up 68,000 of the 80,000 people who received a letter from voting officials telling them they would be removed from the rolls if they didn't speak up. Under the settlement, the burden shifts to officials to prove those people are really dead; the remainder ("strong matches"), who are much more likely to be dead, will still have to prove otherwise if they can.

"Today's order [approving the settlement] is another step toward improving the integrity of the election system," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who had unsuccessfully tried to defend the state's original plan. I think it's actually the same step, but 85% smaller.

Texas Settles With Previously Dead Voters

Texas Republicans call for an end to critical thinking in schools

A meeting of the Texas Republican party in Fort Worth came out with a list of demands for the education system, including a demand that schools end the practice of teaching "higher order thinking skills" because these challenge "student's fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority."

In the section titled "Educating Our Children," the document states that "corporal punishment is effective" and recommends teachers be given "more authority" to deal with disciplinary problems.

Additionally, the document states the party opposes mandatory pre-school and kindergarten, saying parents are "best suited to train their children in their early development."

Texas Republican Party Calls For Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Corporal Punishment In Schools (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

56-year-old Texas grandma gets life without parole on first-time drug charges

In Fort Worth, Texas, Elisa Castillo—a 56-year-old grandmother with no prior drug offenses— has been sentenced to life without parole. She maintains her innocence, and never "touched the drugs that sent her to prison," points out the ACLU; "Her fate was sealed, in large part because she didn't have a card to play when negotiating her sentence." The Houston Chronicle has more.

Sloths, Magic and Tripping: The Art of Georganne Deen

Georganne Deen - "Song of Myself" detail

 I never thought I’d say this, but you are lucky if you live in the Dallas area. Georganne Deen is my favorite living artist and has a show at Webb Gallery in Waxahatchie, TX right now.

The Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum has an excellent exhibition up right now called In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. All of the heavy hitters are there, including Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. Georganne Deen is heir to this legacy of wonderful (and crazy) group of women. Her work has all of the madness and magic and emotion that you would expect from the surrealists but with a wonderful awareness of current cultural cues and graphic design.

Read the rest

Texas politician's internet ad features gentleman electrocuted while peeing (video)

Roland Sledge is a 66-year-old Houston energy lawyer running for a seat on the Texas state commission that regulates the oil and gas industries. In the YouTube ad above, the Republican candidate stares into the camera while standing in a pasture, and riffs on a Will Rogers quote: “Isn’t it about time we elected political leaders that have sense enough not to pee on electric fences?” You'll want to read the New York Times story here. (via Michael Roston)

Reddit-based PAC takes aim at SOPA-sponsor Lamar Smith


Test PAC, the Reddit-based PAC founded to raise money to support opponents of Lamar Smith, the author of SOPA, has placed its first billboard and is set to run its first advertisements. The materials direct people to unseatlamar.com. Ajpos from TestPAC explains:

Analytics take a few days to come in, and the billboard has been up for only about three hours.

I want to stress that the PAC has about 300 members right now and we have plans to air two commercials, so the billboard serves a few other purposes besides getting Texans to visit the website:

1.) This is an example of the internet flexing its muscles and showing that we can make political speech. This is Test PAC's first venture into the "real world" and shows that we have some teeth. The NYT, Guardian, and Forbes all wanted to do an article on us but ultimately decided not to until we've grown a bit. This is the first example of how we're growing.

2.) We hope this will generate some publicity nationally so people from other districts and states can generate more public support for the campaign. 300 members is not enough, in my opinion, to air two commercials.

3.) It also gives both Mack and Morgan something to use in their own campaigns. They can show how people besides their campaign staff are interested in them. We are a "tertiary" campaign, so we cannot do their campaigning for them, but this certainly helps.

Of course, we would absolutely be thrilled if we start getting hits from San Antonio, and I'll be disappointed if we don't, but it's not the end of the world.

That Reddit-funded billboard in Lamar Smith's district is up (i.imgur.com)

"More Awesome Than A Monkey In A Bacon Tuxedo Riding A Cyborg Unicorn With A Lightsaber For The Horn On The Tip Of A Space Shuttle Closing In On Mars, While Engulfed In Flames."


Robbo sez, "The title for the article is just a portion of an amazing thank you letter from a primary school student in Austin, Texas - sent to a local weatherman who visited the class. Includes a drawing of a unicorn delivering donuts."

'I will not make you a slave, you will live in my 200 story [sic] castle where unicorn servants will feed you doughnuts off their horns,' Flint wrote.

'I will personally make you a throne that is half platnum and half solid gold and jewel encrested [sic].'

The student, whose age is uncertain, proved he may have a career in creative writing ahead of him if either the meteorology or world domination do not work out as planned.

In fulsome praise, Flint said Ramon was 'more awesome than a monkey wearing a tuxedo made out of bacon riding a cyborg unicorn with a lightsaber for the horn on the tip of a space shuttle closing in on Mars, while ingulfed in flames'.

Flint added: 'And in case you didn't know that's pretty dang sweet.'

'More awesome than a monkey in a bacon tuxedo' - child's letter goes viral (Thanks, Robbo!)

(Image: Flint)

Reddit PAC aims to kick SOPA's daddy Lamar Smith out of Congress

Mike sez, "With the Texas Primaries coming up in May, I thought you would be interested to know that some of the Redditors that were involved in the boycott on GoDaddy.com and 'Operation Pull Ryan' (where Reddit raised money for Rep. Paul Ryan's opponent), have started TestPAC, a non-connected, registered PAC, with the goal of defeating Lamar Smith in the Republican Primaries."

You'll remember Lamar Smith from such stupid Internet laws as SOPA and the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 (AKA "the Spy on Everyone Always Act"). He's a 25-year incumbent and a powerful committee chairman. And he's kind of a tool.

What we aim to do is a bit unorthodox: use Texas’ semi-open primary system to edge Smith out in favor of another Republican candidate. When voters identify themselves to the election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. As explained on Wikipedia:

Only one ballot is cast by each voter. In many states with semi-open primaries, election officials or poll workers from their respective parties record each voter’s choice of party and provide access to this information. The primary difference between a semi-open and open primary system is the use of a party-specific ballot. In a semi-open primary, a public declaration in front of the election judges is made and a party-specific ballot given to the voter to cast.

This means that Republicans, Independents and Democrats can participate in the choosing of either party’s candidate in the primary election. While Democrats who choose to participate in the Republican primaries are exempt from also voting for their own party’s candidate, it is important to note that their actions would speak volumes in regards to changing the political landscape in their district. Keeping in mind the fact that Smith has enjoyed comfortable margins of victory over the years in a district that heavily favors Republican candidates, a vote for another candidate in Texas’ open primary would possibly have a greater effect than simply voting in the Democratic primary and ultimately losing the race.

Mr. Smith Comes Back From Washington (Thanks, Mike!)

SOPA's author wants everything you do online logged and made available without a warrant

Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of the ill-starred SOPA Internet regulation, has an even dumber idea for the Internet. In the name of fighting child pornography, he wants to force ISPs to log everything you do online, then make it available to police and government agents without a warrant. Leslie Meredith has a writeup on the mounting opposition to Smith's latest act of unconstitutional lunacy:

However, under Smith’s bill, records of both suspects and ordinary citizens would all be available to any government agency at any time, no warrant required.

"This type of legislation goes against the fundamental values of our country where individuals are treated as innocent until proven guilty," Reitman said. "H.R. 1981 would uproot this core American principle, forcing ISPs to treat everyone like a potential criminal."

The bill has been forwarded from committee to the full House of Representatives for consideration, which is expected later this year. There is no sign of a Senate version at this time.

If the past is any indicator, Smith may be in for a hard fight with activists. He was also sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill that would have shut off access to foreign websites accused of hosting pirated content. But he was forced to withdraw the legislation after massive protests by many of the same opponents who likewise thought the remedy was too harsh for the problem.

Child porn law could affect everyone's privacy

Clever assemble-yourself toys and models made with laser-cutters


Artifacture Studios is a maker shop based near Dallas, TX (I met the founders at a recent speaking gig at U Texas at Arlington) that does pretty amazing stuff with laser-cutters. They are probably best known for their laser-cut Eiffel Tower models, ornate models of the iconic building cut from stiff card that use cunning slot/tab fasteners that create a robust structure without glue or tape. They've also recently launched a 30-piece acrylic laser-cut puzzle called the "Frabjous" that uses interlocking tesselations of a polygon to form a great rhombic triacontahedron, "a self-intersecting polyhedron with thirty rhombic faces."

The Eiffel Tower model is ingeniously simple to assemble, the Frabjous is challenging and elegant.

Starting with a scan of the original plans by Gustav Eiffel, this was designed to have four identical pieces that tab into one another creating a 3D model without the use of glue, tape or fasteners. Laser cut from high quality soft-touch paper. Online instructional video provided to help with assembly...

Frabjous is a sculpture and geometric assembly puzzle made from dichroic acrylic. The swirling geometric form is composed of thirty identical pieces that catch and reflect the light in stunning fashion. Mathematically, the planes of the shape are the face planes of a "great rhombic triacontahedron," a self-intersecting polyhedron with thirty rhombic faces. But the puzzle piece is a carefully designed subset of the rhombus that doesn't intersect copies of itself. Weaving the parts through each other so each remains planar is trickier than it looks. Instructions are included.

Artifacture

Bruce Sterling freebies at Austin Hackerspace

Hey, Austinites, Bruce Sterling's giving away his books at the ATX, the Austin Hackerspace, on Saturday from 5-7PM. Cory

Taxi-window sticker: our security stinks and your credit card will be sniffed


On my way to Dallas-Fort Worth airport today, I snapped this picture of the sticker on the inside of the back-seat passenger-side window of my taxi. It warns "The method used to authenticate credit card transactions for approval is not secure and personal information is subject to being intercepted by unauthorized personnel." There's some history there, I'm guessing. Consumer warnings are very nice, but I'm left wondering why they don't just update the firmware on the credit-card box with some decent crypto (unless this is because they use a CB radio to call in card numbers, which is pretty danged foolish).

White grandfather detained, cuffed in Austin while walking home with his black granddaughter

Scott Henson, "a former journalist turned opposition researcher/political consultant, public policy researcher and blogger," recounts how he was repeatedly stopped and eventually cuffed and detained while walking his granddaughter home through a park in Austin, TX. Henson is white and his granddaughter is black, and the police said that they were responding to a "kidnapping" call. But their response terrified the little girl and humiliated her grandfather. And it's not the first time it's happened to them.

As soon as we crossed the street, just two blocks from my house as the crow flies, the police car that just passed us hit its lights and wheeled around, with five others appearing almost immediately, all with lights flashing. The officers got out with tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child. I complied, and they roughly cuffed me, jerking my arms up behind me needlessly. Meanwhile, Ty edged up the hill away from the officers, crying. One of them called out in a comforting tone that they weren't there to hurt her, but another officer blew up any good will that might have garnered by brusquely snatching her up and scuttling her off to the back seat of one of the police cars. (By this time more cars had joined them; they maxxed out at 9 or 10 police vehicles.)

I gave them the phone numbers they needed to confirm who Ty was and that she was supposed to be with me (and not in the back of their police car), but for quite a while nobody seemed too interested in verifying my "story." One officer wanted to lecture me endlessly about how they were just doing their job, as if the innocent person handcuffed on the side of the road cares about such excuses. I asked why he hadn't made any calls yet, and he interrupted his lecture to say "we've only been here two minutes, give us time" (actually it'd been longer than that). "Maybe so," I replied, sitting on the concrete in handcuffs, "but there are nine of y'all milling about doing nothing by my count so between you you've had 18 minutes for somebody to get on the damn phone by now so y'all can figure out you screwed up." Admittedly, this did not go over well. I could tell I was too pissed off to say anything constructive and silently vowed to keep mum from then on.

To me, the point of this story is how "see something, say something," fails. The police and some person or persons in the park believed that Henson and his granddaughter didn't "look right" and "just to be safe" called in the report and responded in force. But "doesn't look right" is culturally determined and informed by our conscious and subconscious biases. For people unaccustomed to mixed-race families, "doesn't look right" means calling the police down on the innocent children and grandparents in your neighborhood. At its core, "see something, say something" isn't about a war on crime, it's a war on surprises, whose core premise is to mistrust and fear things you can't understand.

Me, APD, and 'Babysitting While White,' Part Deux (via Reddit)

A reminder for our readers in the Dallas area

I'm giving a free talk tonight at UT Arlington engineering, 7PM at the Lonestar Auditorium, entitled: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Internet Regulation." Tell your friends! Cory