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March 5th, 2016:

Saturday video break: If I Had A Boat

Lyle Lovett sings one of his best songs in a stunningly beautiful concert hall while sitting next to John Hiatt and Joe Ely swoon.

Gorgeous, and the verse about Tonto telling the Lone Ranger to kiss his ass gets me every time.

The cover version I have is by Eddie From Ohio, a cut from their “Portable EFO Show” live CD, in which they relate the story that Lovett has told about the song’s inspiration (he asked a little boy once what he would want if he could have anything in the world, and the answer he got was “A boat. And a pony.”), but sadly I could find no video of it. (A search on YouTube led me to this three-song set they did in 2014 at a benefit concert for their longtime collaborator John Jennings, who was battling kidney cancer. It was a battle he would, sadly, lose, to which all one can say is “Fuck cancer”.)

Anyway. From one tragic killer disease to another, as we have instead Karen Elson’s cover, from the soundtrack to the movie Still Alice:

Go read the comments on the YouTube link if you want to have the feels. I’ll try to be less depressing next week.

SCOTUS allows mercury regulations to remain in effect

Good.

Martin Lake coal plant

Martin Lake coal plant

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request from Texas and 19 other states to block a landmark federal rule requiring power plants to slash emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals — a setback for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a case where he saw earlier success.

Without offering an explanation, Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday denied the states’ request for a stay on the rules, according to media reports.

That decision followed a Supreme Court ruling last June — hailed by Texas Republicans — that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not properly weigh the cost of compliance for coal-fired power plants against the benefits to public health while setting the new standards.

The June ruling sent the Obama Administration back to the drawing board on the regulations, which had already gone into effect. But it did not halt them.

The states, led by Michigan, had asked the justices to block the rules during the revision process. Roberts said no.

See here, here, and here for the background. Any day where Ken Paxton loses a fight to enable pollution is a good day. Think Progress has more.

Two recounts may be in the works

There are always going to be some close ones.

After losing her reelection bid to Hugh Shine by 118 votes, state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, announced she is requesting a recount.

In an email to supporters soliciting input Wednesday afternoon, White said that she is “still reeling in disbelief over the outcome of this election,” but she believes that an expected $1,800 price tag for a recount would be worth the cost. Later that day she posted to Facebook to announce that she would be moving forward with the recount request.

“We are at peace regardless of the results,” White wrote. “Ensuring fairness and accuracy with this election is essential for our community.”

In the Senate District 1 race to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, fell short of the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff. His current runoff opponent is expected to be fellow state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who led a third candidate, James “Red” Brown, by a mere 13 votes.

Brown and Simpson spoke on Wednesday about a potential recount, according to officials on both campaigns. Both agreed that if they go down that path, they will do it together with Brown footing the bill. But the Brown campaign thinks Simpson’s 13-vote lead may not stand ahead of next week’s canvassing of the vote, a process in which the race’s results are made official.

Brown’s consultant Todd Olsen said there are more than 630 provisional or military ballots across the district which have not yet been counted. The campaign has heard from several voters since election day asking about how they complete the process to have their provisional ballot counted, according to Olsen.

See here for the totals in the Senate race, and here for the House race. Shine had a 624 vote lead in early voting and hung on for the win, while Bryan Hughes was over 50% in early voting, with Red Brown in what would have been a meaningless second place. The only successful recount I can think of in recent years was in CD28 when a bunch of late votes were found for Henry Cuellar against Ciro Rodriguez. But you never know, and it only costs some money to try. Trail Blazers has more.

SH 130 operator files for bankruptcy

Boom.

Speed Limit 85

A private company that operates part of the Texas toll road with the highest speed limit in the country filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, fewer than three years after the section of the road it oversees first opened.

The SH 130 Concession Company, a partnership between Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure, opened the 41-mile-long southern portion of the State Highway 130 toll road, from north of Mustang Ridge to Seguin, in October 2012 to much fanfare. In addition to the record 85 mile-per-hour speed limit, the company signed an unprecedented deal with the state to build and operate its section of the road for 50 years in exchange for a portion of the toll revenue.

[…]

SH 130 Concession Company CEO Alfonso Orol said in a statement that the road will continue to operate while it goes through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

“The filing will have no financial impact on the state of Texas,” Orol said. “It’s business as usual for our customers, employees, vendors, and surrounding communities during these proceedings.”

See here and here for the prior steps towards this seemingly inevitable point. The Statesman adds on.

The problem, despite the road’s potential for speed, has been low traffic. “The lingering effects of the recession,” the company said in a press release Wednesday, “reduced traffic volumes regionally during the project’s early years and delayed development along the largely rural SH 130 corridor.”

The building boom in Central Texas has largely bypassed Lockhart (located just east of Texas 130) and Caldwell County, and several large developments announced along the corridor are still only in aspirational form.

As of 2014, when the road had about 16,400 toll transactions a day, traffic was about 30 percent below the projections used in borrowing the money for the road. Original projections for 2015 and 2016 weren’t available Wednesday.

But use of the road, while not enough to meet the company’s financial obligations, has been improving. According to SH 130 Concession, the road had 5.15 million transactions in 2013, 5.99 million in 2014 (a 16.3 percent increase) and 6.9 million in 2015 (a 15.2 percent increase).

See here for all my SH 130 blogging. Will this actually affect operations of this ill-fated road? Who knows, and who would be able to tell if it did? I’m just wondering what the next stage of this story is.

Texas Monthly long read on transgender issues

Mostly about someone I know, as it happens.

Colt Keo-Meier

Boy. Girl. Man. Woman. These terms reflect a binary view of gender. Our language doesn’t allow for the in-between. And yet there are girly girls and tomboys; fey men and macho ones. As the trans community has become more visible, it has become clear that gender, like sexuality, can exist on a spectrum.

Nevertheless, the very first thing that Colt’s parents, Bob and Pam Meier, learned about their only child was which distinct category he fell in. “It’s a girl!” the obstetrician announced as she delivered Colt into the arms of his mother one August day in 1983. And it was on this bit of information that Bob and Pam—a psychologist and an ob-gyn, respectively, both admired in their community—began hanging their dreams and expectations.

Colt’s understanding of himself would turn out to be considerably different. Like many who are transgender, he felt the devastating disconnect between, as he put it to me, “the gender others tell you you are and the gender you know yourself to be.” In keeping with Colt’s wishes, I will refer to him only as Colt, even though his parents gave him a more feminine name when he was born. And I will refer to him only as a “he,” even though it took him quite some time, growing up in Beaumont, to embrace his masculine identity.

As a child, Colt hated Barbie dolls, long hair, and anything overtly feminine. When the family’s real estate agent said that he was a pretty little girl and that she would nominate him to be a princess at the annual Neches River Festival once he was old enough, three-year-old Colt replied, “No, thanks. I want to be king.” Because he wriggled out of dresses as soon as his mother had slipped them over his head, Pam got permission from the principal of his Catholic school to fashion him a modified school uniform: overalls made out of the same plaid fabric used for the girls’ pleated skirts. Once he ran around his ballet class giving girls loving kisses. “Ew, that’s gay!” said another four-year-old, leaving Colt hot with shame. Before his first confession, at the age of seven, Colt prayed in his pew: God, please don’t make me a lesbian. He didn’t know what a lesbian was, but he got the sense that it wasn’t good.

In high school, Colt was a straight-A student, a Eucharistic minister, and a black belt in tae kwon do. He still refused to wear dresses, but to avoid scrutiny, he grew out his hair. Though he had boyfriends, he never wanted to be intimate with them. It wasn’t until the summer after his sophomore year at Rice University that his best friend, a girl in his Catholic youth group, helped him figure out why. Standing in the upstairs hallway of Colt’s parents’ house late one night, the friend leaned in and kissed him. Then she ran down the stairs, afraid of how he might react. He stood in shock for a good minute, his body lit. Then he ran down the stairs to kiss her back.

Colt was ashamed of what this meant, because the church had taught him to believe that homosexuality is a sin. Yet the love he felt suggested otherwise. More than a year later, when he told his parents about the relationship, they were accepting, though Bob was certain it was a passing phase. Then twenty, Colt made a similar assumption; he was not a lesbian, he believed. He just loved this one girl. But after they broke up, he fell for another woman. A fellow student at Rice, she was proud to be a lesbian and encouraged Colt to be proud too.

In 2006, several months after Colt graduated with a degree in psychology, he and his girlfriend attended a one-man show at the Rice Student Center. Scott Schofield, now an actor on The Bold and the Beautiful, took to the stage to dramatize how he had come out as a lesbian and then later as a trans man over the course of several Southern debutante balls. Sitting in the dim hall, Colt was transported back to his forced appearance, as a sixteen-year-old in a poufy white dress, at the Neches River Festival. Colt had only ever heard the word “transgender” used as a slur, but looking at Schofield—who was blond, Texan, and transgender—Colt saw himself.

Read the whole thing, it’s well worth your time. I knew Colt when he was a student at Rice – we both played saxophone in the MOB. I haven’t seen him since then, but we’re friends on Facebook and have a lot of friends – some from Rice, some from local politics – in common. I’m happy to see him doing well and helping others walk the same path he did.