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June 27th, 2009:

Saturday video break: It gives us those nice bright colors

News item: Kodak is retiring its iconic Kodachrome film after 74 years. I think you know what’s coming:

Makes you think that all the world’s a sunny day, doesn’t it?

We may miss the SUPERTRAIN


As we have reported here often, the federal government is about to dump a lot of money on states to develop a handful of high-speed passenger rail corridors, and the good news for us is that Texas is home to two of the 11 routes highlighted for special focus. (Click here for the feds’ plan: hsrstrategicplan.pdf.)

The bad news? As I wrote in a short piece for the newspaper this morning, Texas is so poorly positioned to build its rail lines, it’s all but certain to be shut out of the big money. (Another take on the same theme, from San Antonio, is here.)

The reason for this, in short, is that other states are way ahead of us in laying the groundwork for building rail infrastructure and dealing with the funding issues for same. Christof gave a to-do list awhile ago. And we did at least get a bill passed and signed to authorize a study of high speed rail. But that’s just a baby step, and several other states are far ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, or we’ll lose out on a lot of federal dollars in the next few years. That would be a huge missed opportunity, and a real shame.

Get ready to say good-bye to Wilshire Village

Swamplot brings the sad but totally expected news.

As noted in today’s Daily Demolition Report below, 20 structures of the Wilshire Village garden apartments at the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy received demolition permits yesterday.

Aren’t there only 17 buildings in the complex? Maybe everyone’s just trying to be extra sure to get them all.

Somehow, that’s just fitting. My only request is that someone take pictures of the demolition. Then we’ll see how long it takes before something is built in its place – as we know from various other examples, it could be awhile.

Potential challenger for Burnam

Via Campos, I see that State Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth may get a primary challenger next year.

City Councilman Sal Espino has heard a lot of frustration from constituents about what state lawmakers did not accomplish in the recently completed legislative session.

Now, he’s trying to see what he can do about it and is considering whether to challenge state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, for the District 90 state House seat in next year’s Democratic Party primary.

“There’s a lot of frustration about what is happening in Austin,” said Espino, who has served on the City Council since 2005. “There are a lot of issues [about] cities and local governments that are not being addressed.

“Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas without a Hispanic representing a House seat,” he said. “I don’t think [Burnam] has been able to get much meaningful legislation passed, although I admire his battle against the prior speaker.”

Burnam, who was elected to District 90 in 1996 on his third try, said he believes that Espino should stay where he is, especially because he was re-elected this year to another two-year term on the Fort Worth City Council.

“Sal has no experience in this arena,” Burnam said. “There is a role for people like Sal, but more importantly, there is a role for people like me . . . to stand up against [former House Speaker Tom] Craddick, to stand up over and over again. It takes people with experience and leadership to make a difference.”

I like Rep. Burnam, and as I said before I think he needs to be judged on a different set of criteria than some other Reps, as he plays a different role. I can understand the frustration his constituents may have about a lack of action in the Lege, but let’s face it: This was the first session since 2001 that was reasonably conducive to Democratic interests, though that was only to the point where the Republican insistence on voter ID derailed everything in its path. In short, there’s only so much that could have been done. Whether Rep. Burnam’s constituents agree with that, or see his role as I do, that’s the question.

More questionable arson convictions

The Observer has published the second of its stories on questionable arson convictions (the first, from April, is here). It’s a compelling series, and really gives a good picture of why these two cases should not have resulted in charges, much less prison sentences. Reading it, and reading some of the blogging that Grits has done on the topic, has been an eye-opener, the kind of thing that makes me hope it gets more of a pop-culture treatment – you could make for an awesome “CSI” or “Law and Order” episode out of this, and I can think of a half-dozen or so crime-fiction writers who could do even more. Maybe if that happens, it might penetrate the public consciousness in the way that DNA exonerations have started to do.

One of the things that the article notes is that the Texas Forensic Science Commission is on the verge of releasing its report on Cameron Willingham, who may go down in Texas history as the first officially-declared innocent person to have been executed. Willingham, whose case is recounted in great detail here, was convicted and ultimately put to death in 2004 for the 1991 fire that killed his three daughters. Advances in scientific knowledge of how fires get started and spread showed just how bogus the state’s case was against him. Ironically, that report will be released shortly after the 200th execution of Governor Perry’s career. Overzealous implementation may help build public support for doing away with the death penalty in this state, but I think it’ll take a case of an actually innocent executed inmate to truly swing the tide. Grits has more.