Sunday, May 6, 2018

Babylon on the Colorado

Every fifteen minutes of the day a tour begins on the first floor of the Texas Capitol. The guides are mostly fresh-scrubbed college students, young women in identical skirts and blouses and the young men in button-down shirts with conservative striped ties. They begin at the south foyer offering visitors a view of the flags illustrated in the marble floor representing the six countries that have, at one time or another, ruled Texas.
In recent decades after the $288 million renovation of fire-damage and construction of a massive underground extension the tour has become longer and requires the guides to memorize more facts, to answer more questions. The subterranean extension is developing its own story like the main building and will one day be historic in its own right. But it’s the original granite-faced big house completed in 1888 by prison labor and Scottish stonemasons, paid for by a swap of 3,000,000 acres of public land – an area twice the size of the state of Delaware – that remains the soul of Texas.
            From the rotunda the guide leads the way to the Senate floor. When the Legislature is not in session, tourists oooh and aaah over the paintings of heroes and ask more questions. Except for the velour ropes and portraits of dead white men the Senate chamber has the feel of an elaborate bordello parlour. The tour leaders were previously warned by the State Preservation Board, responsible for the Capitol’s maintenance, “Do not add material or stories to your tour that are not in your packet. If someone asks you a question that you don’t have information on, tell them to stop by our office after the tour and we will try to answer it." Nowadays a little adlibbing is permitted. Invariably it’s in the back of the mind of any Texan of a certain age that a fire took place here on the Senate side – a very destructive fire, in which someone died. The occasional tourist may even know that the fire led to the renovation of the capital and eventually, in a sense, to the creation of the extension itself. “Wasn’t it something about an apartment?” visitors may ask, referring to the origin of the blaze. It was so long ago that details only buzz vaguely in the back of minds as a sense more than a concrete knowing.
            If the visitor asks how the fire started the official story is that a television set shorted out in what was then the lieutenant governor’s apartment behind the Senate floor. Specifically, it was a Zenith TV although that’s not mentioned. The set originally cost $425 and had a “self-extinguishing cabinet,” which isn’t mentioned either, yet it spontaneously melted down and nearly took the soul of Texas with it.
            That is the official story.
            The “official story” has survived three decades, but in recent years old evidence that was suppressed has come to light – and a key witness spoke a few words before dying. Both contradicted the official explanation. The official story of the Capitol fire now appears to be exactly what it is, a complete fabrication told to protect a very powerful political family – a family that has included a governor and lieutenant governor and once defined the Texas establishment the way the Bushes do now. Actually two people died in the fire. One of the victims of the Capitol fire was a 23-year-old horse trainer from a barn in New Caney, outside Houston, who succumbed to smoke inhalation on February 6, 1983 in a bedroom of the then-lieutenant governor’s then-apartment, behind the Senate chamber. The other was a Capitol policeman who breathed his last breath after a minor car accident in Guanajuato down on Mexico’s central plateau a year later.
Those are the latest two victims of the Texas myth – or, in this case, the Texas lie.

February 5, 1983: The 68th session of the Texas Legislature had just begun and Lt. Gov William P. Hobby was in town, staying at a duplex he shared with his wife a few blocks from the Capitol as was their custom. There were two apartments in the Capitol then, dating from the days when the legislative leadership might come to Austin only for the legislative session, every two years. The Hobbys preferred to use their state quarters (consisting of four bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, a den and four baths) as a guest house for out-of-town visitors. The other apartment is on the second floor on the west side and belongs to the Speaker. Kate Pettus Hobby, a high school senior at St. John’s in Houston, and a couple named Waterman, owners of the stable where Miss Hobby rode, and Mathew Hansen, her riding instructor, were all in town that day for the Texas Riding and Hunting Association banquet at the Driskill Hotel where Miss Hobby was to receive an award. She and her party stayed in the Capitol apartment. A dance followed the awards banquet and Kate Hobby and Matt Hansen left at two in the morning, driven the few blocks from the hotel by an older Hobby sibling, Andrew, who did not stay. In the apartment the Watermans, who were in their mid-30s, were already asleep. Kate Hobby poured a glass of juice for herself and a coke for Hansen, she recalled in a statement, and the two sat eating Fritos on the couch in the den where the fire started. Kate stayed with Matt Hansen a few minutes, she said to investigators the next day, and then went to bed. When last seen alive by Kate Hobby, Matt Hansen – who had been drinking all night – was stretched out on the couch, smoking cigarettes and watching Music TV.
Two hours later Kate and the Watermans were awakened by smoke and noise, according to the official account, as glass and wood cracked in the flames. Heat detectors designed to sound an alarm in the security office on the Capitol’s first floor summoned police. Officer Joel Quintanilla had been on patrol on the grounds outside and was called in, raced upstairs and heard Hansen beating on the walls of the apartment but the smoke was too much to penetrate. Quintanilla was burned on his hands, arms and face, as his lungs filled with soot. The Watermans and Kate Hobby escaped but firemen found the riding instructor, dressed only in pants and socks, lying between the twin beds in a guest room. That’s the official line. “This particular [television] set, we can prove that it was defective and that it caught fire and damaged the Capitol,” Attorney General Jim Mattox said following a legal settlement under which Zenith agreed to pay $600,000 to the Hansen family, $300,000 to Quintanilla’s survivors and $1.3 million to the State of Texas for repairs to the then 95-year-old red granite building.
“We got ninety or ninety-five percent of what we wanted,” Mattox told the public.

From the beginning there were doubts about this account of events related to both the progression of the fire and its cause. First the timing did not make sense. Capitol security officers clocked the smoke detectors’ alarm at 5:25 in the morning and the fire department was alerted at 5:33. Yet every physical indication was that the blaze had begun much earlier with Officer Quintanilla testifying that he had been called in from patrol on a report of smoke at 5 a.m. Acting Chief Brady Pool who led the firefighters that morning was the first to hint that something was not right.
“Anybody who was in the business, any professional,” he said later in an interview, “could tell that the fire had been burning for a while before we got there. It hadn’t just started five minutes before [the alarm] was turned in.” He cited as an example a hot-water heater, normally in position in one of the false ceilings above the den. The first firemen to enter the apartment found the heater on the floor – the whole ceiling had already burned away. Chief Pool first thought the cause was electrical, sparks from a short circuit – the usual house-fire kind of thing—just on a bigger scale. At first the trauma of the fire itself trumped the search for a cause. It was a mind boggling scene that dawn at the north end of Congress Avenue downtown. Mark White, sworn in as governor the month before, walked over from the Mansion and was put to work dragging water hoses. The first firemen to arrive called in a second alarm and a third was turned in almost an hour later. At one point the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, mayor and city manager were all on the scene together with 100 firemen and at the height of the fire Chief Pool informed Governor White that he needed to be prepared to give the order to abandon the building. Almost a century before the first Texas Capitol also burned down – no one could believe it was happening again.
Eventually the flames were “knocked down,” as firemen say, before reaching the Senate chamber. In addition to Mathew Hansen who was already past help when he was dragged by firemen from the apartment, that morning three Capitol police officers and eight firefighters were also injured.
Early that same morning, not long after the first alarm, city fire investigators were already on their way to the scene. As they drove along Festival Beach Road looking north they saw smoke a mile away, rising from the most prominent building in Texas. The State Fire Marshal’s people began arriving too. The city and state investigators had joint jurisdiction – or so they thought. Because of the nature of the damage, the origin of the fire was quickly narrowed down to the den of the lieutenant governor’s apartment. Malcolm Light, the city’s chief arson investigator, focused first on the two likeliest causes. “In this fire, like most where damage is particularly severe,” he wrote in his notes, showing particular literary care in what was likely to be a highly scrutinized investigation, “determination of the exact point of origin is extremely difficult.
“Barring any unexpected event in the investigation, there appear to be only two possibilities regarding fire cause. Either a fault or shorting occurred in an electrical conductor in the vicinity of the northwest corner [of the lieutenant governor’s den] resulting in the fire, or the fire was initiated by a carelessly discarded cigarette or smoking materials.”
In the northwest corner of the den there was a television on a shelf, near bookcases, and an easy chair. “During excavation operations in the room of origin,” Chief Light wrote, “remains of a television were recovered from the northwest quadrant of the room along with remnants of electrical conductors. What appeared to be the operating cord to the television was recovered intact with no evidence of faults or melting.” A piece of unidentified electrical wire was found nearby with blisters indicating a short. A short can cause a fire, sure – but a fire can also cause a short.  
 Officer Quintanilla was interviewed in Brackenridge Hospital where he was in intensive care. He had joined two other Capitol policemen on the first floor of the east wing that unhappy morning when he came in from patrol and from the hospital bed he told Chief Light, “The three of us ran to the elevator. As soon as we got off the elevator, we looked down and we could see smoke coming from the door leading to the den.” They entered the apartment, and down the hall Quintanilla could hear someone shouting, “Help me, get me out.” Quintanilla moved toward the den where the door was still closed. Seen from another perspective, one of the other officers explained how Joel Quintanilla made a fatal mistake. “Officer Spinks told [Officer Quintanilla] that the fire and smoke were too bad and for him not to open the door; however, at that minute, Quintanilla kicked the door and the door exploded open onto Officer Quintanilla. The hallway was immediately filled with smoke and fire, all the lights went out and we were unable to see anything.”
In that half-second view inside the den, which he would eventually pay for with his life, Joel Quintanilla said he saw fire to the left ("Fire, man," he said specifically in his formal interview about what he saw, "and lots of smoke") in the northwest corner near the television, and also straight ahead, to the east, on the sofa.
Subsequent examination would determine odd burn patterns on the sofa itself.

In a house in North Austin an old man sat two decades later with his wife and reminisced. This former public official held two major positions in his life, both related to the detection and prevention of fire. For the last fifteen years of his professional career Ernest Emerson was Fire Marshal of Texas.
On the morning of February 9, three days after the Capitol fire, Marshal Emerson was on a “walk-through” of the ruins of the east end of the building with other state officials, including Attorney General Jim Mattox. The cleanup already begun and investigators from the city and Emerson’s office were trying to determine a cause. As the tour ended Mattox asked the fire marshal to stay for a moment. “I accompanied Mr. Mattox and his group on the tour and remained behind, at Mr. Mattox’s request,” Emerson included in his notes written at the time, which can be found in state archives, “for a short discussion concerning the matter of overlapping jurisdiction and the need to coordinate investigative efforts.”
“He told me,” Emerson recalled two decades later, at home in his Austin living room, “that he was taking over the investigation of the fire.”
Chief Emerson knew Attorney General Mattox from Dallas. Before coming to the capital five years earlier Ernest Emerson had ended a 31-year career in the Big D – rising from fire fighter to chief arson investigator to fire marshal. Mattox had been there too as an assistant district attorney before winning a seat in Congress.
Did Marshal Emerson object to General Mattox taking over the investigation? “He was the attorney general,” Emerson said years later at home. He showed discomfort, as investigators do when confronted with interference by powerful interests. Of what happened later, Emerson added, “I believe he [Mattox] was trying to protect some people.”
 When Jim Mattox took over the Capitol case he hired an outside consultant to solve it. General Mattox had in effect removed both the city and state fire marshals from the case, yet the attorney general is not in the fire-detection business and therefore needed expertise. Mattox named a private consultant to head the investigation, a man named Leland Priest who had preceded Malcolm Light as the City of Austin’s fire marshal. While not satisfied with the attorney general assuming authority for the investigation, State Fire Marshal Emerson was reassured because he knew Priest on a professional level and knew “he was a good man.” A few days later Ernest Emerson got a call from Leland Priest, who had discouraging news. Although never made public at the time, a “confidential supplemental report” can be found in the state fire marshal’s records in the William P. Hobby State Office Building reflecting that the Capitol fire had taken a dangerous turn. 
The report is one paragraph written by Emerson and dated February 18, 12 days after the statehouse had almost burned down: “I met with Leland M. Priest, who had been retained by the Attorney General as a fire cause consultant. He said that he had been dismissed by the Attorney General on Tuesday, February 15th. He said that he had in his possession fire debris samples taken Friday, February 11th, from the den (fire scene) at the Capitol. He said the sample of carpet taken from the northwest corner of the den near the TV was hot.”
“Hot,” Emerson explained in his home during the later interview, “is what investigators say for evidence pointing to the cause of a fire.” Without referring to his notes, the 80-year-old Emerson recalled certain circumstances of what was happening among the ashes of the East Wing. The attorney general had fired Priest, a strategic decision, but doing so made a tactical error – he had not recovered the evidence Priest had collected in the Capitol apartment. Specifically Leland Priest had discovered suspicious burn patterns in the carpet of the room. “Priest called me and said Mattox had let him go. He said Mattox wanted the cause of the fire to be one thing and not another,” Emerson recalled twenty years after the fact.
“Priest said he trusted me and he would only turn over the evidence to me, and only with a subpoena. I drew up a subpoena and went to see him.”
Without telling anyone – and even though he had been taken off the fire cause investigation – Ernest Emerson collected the evidence and assigned one of his men to drive to the Metroplex, to the private Armstrong Forensic Laboratory outside Dallas.
“The purpose of this trip was to deliver and submit five (5) fire debris samples for complete laboratory testing and analysis,” Emerson’s man, who made the trip north, wrote in his own “confidential supplemental report,” dated Feb. 22. “These five debris samples were those recovered from the fire scene by Leland M. Priest, Fire Cause Consultant. …”
“It was requested of Dr. Armstrong that all testing and analysis of the debris samples be aimed at determining any presence of flammable hydrocarbon or other substances in the samples, and, if possible, to identify such substances.” The firemen had already guessed what they were looking for. Among the ruins of the den were unidentified fragments of green glass, as well as a small silver or silver-looking instrument, found melted beyond recognition. Three years earlier comedian Richard Pryor had put “freebasing” in the dictionary after he burned himself while preparing a potent form of cocaine for smoking. Today’s fashion in cocaine is crack but at that time freebasing – essentially home-cooking your own crack – was the thang to do.
To freebase requires “washing” cocaine in a strong solvent, a hydrocarbon like ether, to remove impurities and prepare the drug which is then placed in a pipe. Freebased coke is almost instantaneously absorbed by the lungs. The narcotic effect is fast, ecstatic and short-lived. The preparation, mixing hydrocarbons with fire, is also very dangerous as Pryor discovered to his horror and, later, bitter humor.
The suspicion among firemen was that someone had learned the same lesson in the Capitol.

While he waited for the results of the lab tests, Marshal Emerson kept busy. His official duty assigned by General Mattox was to investigate any possibility that the building had been intentionally torched which no one believed from the beginning but which was presumably intended to keep the fire marshal’s men occupied. In practice it meant talking to a lot of crazies.
Emerson said that, surreptitiously, “I still had people looking at things.”
One avenue of inquiry was to see if the party at the Driskill Hotel had carried over into the Capitol. To find out if the awards banquet spread beyond the ballroom one of Emerson’s men spent a week trying to track down a musician named Mark Stuart, leader of “Dash Rip Rock and the Dragons,” the band that had played Top 40 for the equestrian crowd that night.
Emerson’s agent finally contacted Mr. Stuart by phone at his home in Dallas. The results were disappointing – slightly comical – but remain part of the record in the fire marshal’s “report.” “Mr. Stuart stated that he had talked further with all members of his band about remarks they may have heard at the dance on this particular night, and none of them remembered any comments or remarks about anyone going to another party or a meeting of any kind at any other location. He stated that after a period of time playing in a band, most musicians don’t pay much attention to talk or actions in the attending crowd unless something out of the ordinary occurs.” Emerson’s investigator had just been introduced to after-hours life in the Live Music Capital of the World. Dash Rip Rock and the Dragons were crossed off the list.
In the meantime, the results had come back from the lab.
Leland Priest was right.
The carpeting from the den was hot.
The fourth sample, debris taken in front of the bookcase, “had a strong odor of aromatic components,” the chemist Dr. Armstrong reported. To chemists, “aromatic” does not mean a good smell like perfume – but rather that the source is petroleum-based and volatile, meaning it catches fire. Further testing identified the remains in the carpet as a methyl-ether compound with “strong solvent capabilities.” Because solvents necessary for freebasing can be created from household products the fire marshal’s office quietly contacted the Capitol police, to determine if any supplies of the same ingredients might have been stored in the apartment den. The answer, recorded in another “confidential supplemental report” was that “No materials of this kind were kept or stored in the den at any time.”
Marshal Emerson said he talked with Armstrong by phone, to confirm his findings.
“It was our belief that,” the marshal said, those years later, of events leading to Texas’ big burn, “they were freebasing.” By “they” Emerson said he means a person or persons unknown, but presumably Matt Hansen and perhaps someone else as well. The lab report was ordered sent to Attorney General Mattox. When it became clear what Emerson had done – ordering tests without permission of the AG – Emerson said that he incurred the displeasure of certain high-ranking state officials. As to why no cocaine was found if freebasing had been taking place, former Fire Marshal Emerson suggested an obvious possibility: “That room was pretty well burned-up.” Any cocaine could have been destroyed, just as in a pipe. The attorney general, meanwhile, as part of his investigation, had decided to consult that National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the origins of the fire – for reasons that to this day remain unclear. NASA has wonderful scientists but they aren’t known for their fire forensics work. It looked good. NASA. Oh wow. In the end the state of Texas sued Zenith Radio Corp. and Mattox said he had found evidence of other fires in similar products. Mattoon's trump card was that the state was prepared to introduce the testimony of Lt. Governor Hobby’s servant, responsible for care of the apartment, who would testify that on a previous occasion the TV had blacked out and made a “popping’ noise. During the civil suit which never went to court Zenith’ lawyers (Fulbright & Jaworski) tried to get their hands on Emerson’s notes, a collection which came to be known popularly as “the state fire marshal’s report” – although the “report” really is a series of memoranda written by Emerson and his men for their files in the days following the fire, as the search for a cause developed into intrigue. Once a much sought-after document, never made public until now, these famous slips of paper can actually be viewed in the state archives.
Tipped to the fire marshal’s covert activities Zenith’s lawyers asked for Emerson’s papers at the time. The request was refused by the state’s lawyer, Jim Mattox. The appeals court refused to force the document's release. Zenith’s lawyers said privately that even had they won in court the case would be a public relations nightmare for the company. A frustrated lawyer for Fulbright & Jaworski noted privately, after the settlement had been reached, “One question you need to look at is, did the television set the fire, or did it burn up in the fire?”

A year later Officer Quintanilla remained on complete disability. He was seeing the old homestead in Mexico when he was involved in a minor traffic accident in Guanajuato. While hospitalized his lungs failed. He received a posthumous Carnegie Medal in recognition of his heroism that morning. Leland Priest, who broke the case, died in a freak accident a few years later.
Ernest Emerson who died the year after he gave his final interview was the last real witness – not to the fire but to the investigation. Emerson spent 12 years of his later life on the national board that sets fire-code standards, he said that the men who maintained the integrity of the investigation are not the heroes of this fire or any blaze – but the firefighters themselves who on the morning of February 6, “knocked down” the flames before they reached the Senate chamber. It would be dramatic to say that the Capitol fire haunted Chief Emerson through the decades until he spoke out but that’s simply not true. The fire that haunted him took place almost thirty years before that – the Golden Pheasant restaurant in Dallas. It was seven alarms and the legend is that every firefighter in Dallas worked that night. Four died. At least, Chief Emerson said, he got the Capitol blaze down on paper and out of his head.
As the reconstruction of the east wing of the Capitol was underway the Senate led by Bill Hobby chose to turn the lieutenant governor’s apartment into offices and a lounge for lawmakers. You like to think this was a way of making up for what happened, a kind of noblesse oblige in reverse, doing the right thing to make up for a wrong. You can also believe that the fire did some good. All those false ceilings and dead spaces created through a century of makeshift engineering and quick fixes—after the Scottish masons and prison cons finished work—were removed. The entire Capitol is now fitted with a sprinkler system. Looking back what’s intriguing about the Capitol fire is that the official story was almost contradicted from the very beginning. When Joel Quintanilla first opened his eyes after kicking in the door of the den he was in the lobby-floor Capitol security office having been carried down by his comrades and the first person he saw was Kate Hobby seated across from him with a policeman’s raincoat over her shoulders. What really happened in the apartment might have been discovered then and there if investigators sat down with her, an official lamented long after the fact. Miss Hobby was allowed to leave and gave a brief statement hours later at her father’s townhouse, a few blocks away, signing her name the girlish “Katie,” which she’s still called by some today. She would later testify in a deposition, “There were no drugs or anything in my presence at any time,” Kate Hobby now leads a presumably quiet life doing good deeds in Houston, married to a man who was a pallbearer at the funeral of her grandmother Oveta, the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. “It is a complete fabrication,” she said once of any idea that drug use led to the fire. And, as her patrician backbone rose she added, “You will hear from my lawyer.” She didn’t reveal if she still rides. Only days after the embers had cooled people were already whispering that something wasn’t right about the story that high officials of the Democratic Party were trying to feed the public. Some of the rumors could be attributed to Richard Pryor’s sensationally unhappy experience – the sort of innuendo you might have heard after any suspicious blaze at the time. But in the case of this tragedy, some of the rumbling could be traced to investigators themselves who thought the fix was in. Even the initial excavation of the fire scene had suggested that someone was not telling the truth. The apartment’s “panic button” installed to enable the lieutenant governor to alert security in case of an emergency was found in the “on” position. Someone had tried to summon help. The switch was known to be properly functioning because it had, by coincidence, been inspected the night before the fire. The officer who checked wrote in his log that the apartment was strewn with beer cans.
In the mind’s eye you can almost see Kate Hobby, young, horsey, rich, with a powerful father and a place to crash in Austin for an early spring break. Kate, like her matriarch grandmother – owner of the Houston Post, Oveta Hobby – and the Hobby men, mostly named William or Bill, who mostly went into politics, part of a family that meant a great deal in this state. The Hobbys have rendered considerable service to Texas—although they’ve also tended to run a little wild, especially in their last generations in power. It’s unlikely that the Watermans or Matt Hansen, first-time visitors to the apartment would have known of the panic button’s existence. The Watermans were described by rescuers in documentation as half-asleep and dazed when pulled from their rooms. Kate Hobby would have known though. 
She said she was in her bedroom the whole time and was only awakened by the arrival of the officers. She came out the door into their arms. That’s what she’s always said. That's part of the official story too.
A few hours after the last flames were extinguished, a search began of the bedroom where Mathew Hansen’s body was found. “This investigator noted that a leather jacket was located on the foot of the west twin bed,” an officer of the fire marshal’s office wrote in his report that morning as he surveyed the ash and ruin. “This leather jacket appeared to be the size of one that belonged to a male subject. A maroon and white athletic type jacket was found on the middle portion of the east twin bed. This was a small jacket which appeared to possibly be one belonging to a female.
“Several other articles of clothing were found on the floor next to the victim and upon the east twin bed. All of this clothing appeared to be of male design with the exception of one shirt. This light blue and white shirt actually appeared to be a blouse.” A search of the bathroom found a toothbrush, a “Lady Shick” razor and a tube of muscle ointment. The ashtray on the vanity between the beds contained two cigarette butts of different brands.
The victim’s travel bag held “a small ‘shot glass’ type container containing a clear liquid. The container was clear in color with the opening covered by ‘masking’ tape.” Attorney General Mattox’s office would later describe the contents of the shot glass as “horse liniment.” Burn patterns on the bedroom door indicated the door had been closed after the fire began. That meant Hansen was probably not in the bedroom at the time the blaze started, and may have taken refuge there. “This investigator noted a very unusual circumstance within the bedroom,” the officer recorded that morning in the bedroom. “Neither of the twin beds had been slept in. All of the linens and bedspreads were still in a ‘made-up’ position.
“Additionally, the general appearance of the bedspreads indicated that neither bed had been laid upon prior to the fire. Considering the time frame involved, this investigator considered this circumstance very unusual.”
It was.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What's Killing the SEALs?

            On a clear day in mid-December the governing body of the second most important public university system in the world met in Austin with a routine agenda. Supposedly called together to set salaries for mid-tier officials in the weeks before the extended holiday break, with no regular media present and just one member of the public in attendance—me—the University of Texas Board of Regents adjourned immediately into executive session. The sheer innocence of the posted agenda and the timing of a meeting in advance of Christmas and New Year, when anyone who might be expected to have an interest was guaranteed not to be present, insured that something important was about to happen. And it did. Admiral William McRaven, former SEAL commander and architect of the slaying of Osama Bin Laden, bestselling author and present Chancellor of UT was being fired after a rough three years at the helm, in charge of 14 campuses and 250,000 students. Steps were being taken to give a national hero a graceful exit.
            The executive session was relatively short as those things go. For anyone not privileged enough to stay in the meeting—which meant practically everyone present except the Regents, the Board Secretary, McRaven himself and the university lawyers—there was a weird echo from behind the closed door. A brief outbreak of laughter. Then a return to open session and the announcement that Chancellor McRaven would be leaving his post in May, at the end of the coming semester.
            If there were any doubts that this was an orchestrated departure, from a $100,000-a-month office, those were dispelled in the following moments. Regents Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said in her remarks that she had already formed a search committee for a new chancellor. McRaven confirmed suspicions when he said he was leaving office for “health reasons” which is the preferred excuse for departures in every endeavor from education to business to government. Adm. McRaven took a step further and in his only public recognition that his performance in office may have been lacking when he suggested that the new chancellor, whoever that may be, arrive soon enough to be better prepared than McRaven himself was when, after being appointed, he faced almost immediate exposure to a very critical Texas Legislature and made a mistake that doomed his tenure. That was the chain of circumstaces that sealed his fate but another error may be the real reason McRaven was not the best choice for the job.
            Texas Monthly recently described an inner struggle at UT over whether the System office, where McRaven presides, should merely be a hub of the component institutions or their heart and brain. While that is not the reason Adm. McRaven lost his position it's still a useful point of departure for discussing what the University of Texas has become or will become. Lurking in the background is a 400-pound gorilla—not actually in the room but not far away—the University of California, with ten campuses, including world-famous UCLA and Berkeley, and 240,000 students and which has become the standard by which state schools are now evaluated, including the University of Texas. In recent years UC System has veered from one crisis to another and UC President Janet Napolitano (who herself, like Admiral McRaven, was a high-profile hire from the gun-toting wing of the Obama Administration) has been taken to the woodshed so many times—by legislators, auditors and her own board of regents—that she must think the woodshed is home. While UT has produced one or two high-profile scandals in McRaven’s three-year tenure, in her five years Napolitano-watchers have lost count.
            Just in the last year the bad press for UC has included revelations that System Offices, led by the UC General Counsel, approved instructions to the campuses to falsify replies to a State Auditor’s investigation. Students have complained about high administrators’ salaries and the press had already revealed extravagantly-expensive Regents parties paid for by the public, in the context of rising tuition. The Los Angeles Times published a study last year showing UT System not far behind UC System’s top-heaviness and high administrative expenses. It’s also instructive that Janet Napolitano’s predecessor at UC Office of the President in Oakland was former UT System head Mark Yudof, who also resigned for “health reasons” that overcame him after a few years in California, as then-Regents chair and Hollywood producer Sherry Lansing explained at the time. He was previously reprimanded by his own board for reckless personal spending from public funds and since leaving office, after merely seven years as a UC employee, has been revealed to be receiving a $357,000 a year pension from Oakland, in addition to whatever he’s getting from UT, which is secret. He only angered California lawmakers further when he said, speaking of his big retirement, “That is the way it works in the real world.” Let them eat cake, in other words.
            The new head of UC’s internal watchdog is a former official of the Los Angeles Police Department, a hire that gives an idea of the ethical jeopardy that the leadership of the world’s premier public university now finds itself in. The San Francisco campus—devoted to healthcare and which has become a hotbed of complaints of racism and sexism—and which has recently exported several top officials to UT’s new Dell Medical School, now has an ethics officer in top leadership whose chain of command can bypass Janet Napolitano entirely and report directly to the Regents. The campus, by the way, has also signed a consent decree with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. UT's ethical guidelines were actually imported from UC System: That’s the role model the University of Texas has chosen for establishing a world-class university and that’s the context in which Admiral McRaven’s tenure must be measured, since it is UC he has tried to emulate at UT. The issues are different in Austin than in Oakland where the rot is advanced, but the question is the same: What to think of this kind of leadership?
            A former SEAL who served with McRaven when the young Navy officer was just a lieutenant commander and executive officer of Seal Team 1 in California, back in the day, described McRaven as “low-key, stable and focused, too focused for me.” This former SEAL seemed not to like his former superior officer but to respect him—and said it was clear even then, three decades ago, that McRaven would reach higher command if he didn’t get killed first. The ex-subordinate who did not stay in the Navy for America’s then-coming wars, when special forces would be in such high demand, said his own preference was for the “wild-men” of the SEALs, a golden age of crazy big-balled risk-takers who have presumably been replaced by the more cerebral, better-educated and better-trained practitioners like UT’s departing leader. William McRaven has not only read books he wrote one, on commando operations, while still in service. He followed up recently while serving as chancellor of UT with a bestseller (Make Your Bed) on how to face life’s challenges as a SEAL might. The book, part-self help part-The Art of War for civilians has a narrative line entirely devoted to not giving up, and the likelihood that what McRaven says he is now doing, leaving his post because of health issues or because of the desire to travel and write, seems highly unlikely, if only because of the money. He is paid more than three thousand dollars a day, rain or shine, seven days a week, and was recently ranked by the Chronicle of Higher Education as the second highest paid university executive in the country.
            In person McRaven is a big guy, well over six feet which is said to be a disadvantage in special ops where most of the practitioners are smaller, compact men whose bodies are more amenable to the physics that the job requires. (The SEALs are said to be an odd environment where big men actually are picked on, at least in early training.) Anyway he looked healthy enough at the Regents meeting for someone now complaining of leukemia. To reverse typecast him he resembles the actor who played him in Zero Dark Thirty. Historically the natural comparison is to another Texan who was also a Navy officer, Chester Nimitz, born a few minutes from where McRaven spent his military brat childhood in San Antonio and who traveled in a submarine, as commander of the Pacific Fleet and principal strategist in taking down the Empire of Japan. At the end of the war Nimitz parked his submarine in San Francisco Bay and retired to a seat on the UC Board of Regents where he was instrumental in creating the science-military-healthcare nexus that everyone including UT now wants to copy. A transition to academia seems particularly popular among former military leaders, with Dwight Eisenhower at Columbia University, for example, between his service as Supreme Allied Commander and President of the United States.
            But whether it was the right transition for Adm. McRaven is the debate. He is after all a killer by profession, best known for an assassination, no matter how necessary it may have been. Adm. Nimitz also took part in an assassination, actually, America’s last really big hit before Bin Laden, the elimination of Japanese Adm. Yamamoto, Nimitz’s opposite number in the Imperial Navy who was mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor and whom the U.S. needed out of play if Allied forces were to have their way in the Pacific. But that was one of many aspects of Nimitz’s extraordinary career, including a stint as a young officer teaching at Berkeley, while killing or capturing individuals has been McRaven’s bread and butter. Nimitz was a strategist while McRaven’s expertise is tactical operations. At UT, in short, he was hired as a strategist but may have continued to perform as a tactician.
            The best description of the difference between strategy and tactics in the context of William McRaven’s leadership in Austin actually comes from his time in Washington and is related by another Texan, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who was, by the way, a very successful president of Texas A&M University before being summoned to D.C. to rescue the war in Iraq. In his memoir (Duty) Secretary Gates describes the lead-up to the Bin Laden raid, which he at first opposed. What gave Gates misgivings, before signing on, was making a bad strategic decision and he pointed to Adm. McRaven for an example of short-sighted tactical thinking.
            While he noted that McRaven’s people were well-versed in just this kind of commando operation, having done much the same thing across Afghanistan “and elsewhere,” which meant also in Pakistan, this would be different, no longer in remote tribal territories but in downtown so to speak. “The worst-case scenario was that the Pakistanis could get a number of troops to the compound quickly, prevent extraction of our team, and take them prisoner,” Gates wrote. “When I asked Vice Admiral McRaven what he planned to do if the Pakistani military showed up during the operation, he said the team would just hunker down and wait for a ‘diplomatic extraction.’” That is the difference between a strategic view and tactical focus. McRaven’s tactical brilliance in Pakistan worked, while the strategic one in Texas did not. Using over two hundred million dollars in public funds and completely below the radar, as if it were a secret operation, which it was intended to be, he purchased land for a freshly-conceived but un-debated new UT campus in Houston. Unlike in Pakistan the bad guys showed up, in the form of state legislators in league with the state’s existing higher education warlords. There are in fact no diplomatic extractions from the Texas Legislature. 
                Your cold lifeless body just washes up below the Congress Avenue Bridge.

            A review of McRaven’s calendars through his time at UT is illustrative but not definitive. Despite the university’s widespread geographic demands, from Dallas to Houston, from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River, he has seemed to spend a lot of time out of state, giving speeches and such, and the mere fact that he found time to write a book while running a very complex institution is somehow not reassuring. In the same vein, the desire to show literary chops despite the demands of a very difficult job, in Oakland, Janet Napolitano frequently contributes mystery reviews to the L.A. Times.
            Early on the calendars reference a telephone conversation with President Napolitano, although it’s not clear who initiated the call, and after he encountered rough seas in Texas there’s also reference to an apparent offer for him to take over the University of Tennessee. Also fairly early in his tenure he was meeting with Harris County legislators so the likelihood that no one in power knew what he was planning, in regards a new Houston-area campus, seems unlikely. Also unlikely is that he returned to Texas after decades away and began to pull a new campus, unprompted and unassisted, from his ass. More probable is that he got help—this is purely speculative—perhaps from a Regent who already had business interests in Houston? Also probable is that Adm. McRaven, who was a very experienced administrator in the Special Ops command structure and who had successfully navigated the deep and murky waters of the Potomac, got ambushed on the Colorado River—lending credence to the idea that Austin can be a more dangerous political environment than the District of Columbia. Like a good soldier McRaven sucked it up and did not protest much although, taking heavy fire, he did try to remind legislators of his service to flag and country.
            The strategic mistake that Admiral McRaven has made in Austin seems to be adopting the University of California as a role model instead of as an example of what to avoid. Included in the strategy is stealing away UC’s role in nuclear weapons design. At the December meeting at which he announced his resignation he told the Regents that the single issue that might draw out his stay at the UT helm would be assuring the successful bid for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, thus insuring UT’s military leg of the same tripod that supports UC. He has also relentlessly pushed UT healthcare as a provider in the state.
            A year or two ago in a televised conversation at the California Club, Janet Napolitano described UC healthcare as the fourth-largest provider in the Golden State and the eighth largest in the United States. Hospitals are big earners for the University of California and that is also what UT wants. Academic medicine like UT’s or the University of California’s (the head of UC’s healthcare arm, by the way, Napolitano’s #2 in Oakland, is Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs John Stobo who was previously head of UT's Galveston campus) has, statistically, better outcomes than private healthcare but is by no means immune to high costs and exploitation of minority patients, which is UC’s history in San Francisco and in Los Angeles. Chancellor McRaven didn’t invent this business plan, he inherited it, but he hasn’t appeared to question it either. He has adopted the UC strategy and used his own considerable tactical skills to bring it to Austin.
            To encapsulate UC’s ills, that also apply to the University of Texas, there are two overriding issues: race/gender, and corruption. On both fronts William McRaven has been a disappointment. Race, first.
            All you need to do is walk across campus at UT’s flagship school in Austin to realize that there’s a problem. It’s a white school, as is Berkeley, in a half-minority state. At West Coast public universities for the last few decades there has been an effort to generate extra revenue to pay extraordinary administrative costs by admitting high-tuition-paying foreign students, often from Asia, while denying places on campus to locally-born students. That dynamic exists in Texas as well but at UT Austin, according to a former UT official involved in the subterfuge, there’s a new twist. In recent years the University of Texas has begun accepting a number of wealthy or politically well-placed black students, from newly-affluent parts of Africa, who pay not just exorbitant tuition but are also recorded in the university’s rolls as African-Americans to make it look like UT’s diversity numbers serving the black community of Texas are better than they really are. And it’s not just about students. A study just released in California that created shock waves in Sacramento showed that of the state’s system of higher education (including UC, the second-tier California State University System and the state’s community colleges) two-thirds of the students are minorities while two-thirds of faculty are white. It’s hard to believe those numbers are any different in Texas. Or in university leadership. For more than a decade UC regents have been majority Jewish, big gubernatorial donors from Hollywood or high tech/high finance, mostly Democrats, while at UT and A&M it’s been Republican WASPs but in both cases, Texas and California, almost-exclusively Caucasians. Last year for example Governor Greg Abbott refused calls that he appoint a black regent. Nor has McRaven made any efforts in his own hires.
            At the meeting in December in which the admiral announced his intention to resign, which lasted about an hour, of the twenty or so UT System employees who came and went, the only non-whites who crossed my path were the Regents chairman, Ms. Martinez Tucker, and the black security guard at the front desk who checked my identification. McRaven has talked a good game but UT is still as much an old white boy’s club as anything in the Ivy League. To its credit, UC has done much better on the gender front, with a majority of trainees at California’s main healthcare campus for example now women—although still predominantly white woman, in a state that is majority-minority.
            On the administrative front, of UT System’s almost 900 employees, the actual racial breakdown is not available. Chancellor McRaven has repeatedly refused open records requests for a racial accounting, which is not a good sign but is his history. While still at Special Operations Command he was dinged by USA Today for running an almost-exclusively white shop. At UT he recently approved an incredible case of cultural appropriation with the appointment, of yet another white guy, to head UT’s new institute to study China, as if a Chinese-American could not be found for the position. But it is actually the corruption front where UT may be at even greater risk than UC. Because, besides all the ordinary cash flows and management practices required for running 14 campuses, there is a dynamic in Austin that does not exist in Oakland at the UC Office of the President. It’s called the University of Texas Investment Management Company.
            UTIMCO controls 43 billion dollars and two million acres of oil and gas producing land in the state. In recent years a common scam at the university’s investment company has been the trading of UTIMCO management bonuses for management turning a blind eye on dubious investments, or for back-scratching of influential board members. (See prior posting This trend can only exacerbate now that the university has further lessened transparency and begun refusing to identify investments at all or identifying them only by number or type, not name, with the approval of the Attorney General. And apparently using big bonuses to UTIMCO staff to insure silence.
            For example former longtime UTIMCO CEO Bruce Zimmerman, who was let go a year or so ago while on vacation took it surprisingly well, not raising a stink when interviewed by the Austin daily newspaper. But what was not known at the time and only recently revealed by Pensions & Investments Online is that Zimmerman got a going-away check for $3 million. His replacement as CEO, Britt Harris, was only in office one month when he was awarded a $500,000 bonus in addition to a $550,000 sign-on bonus. In an email response to an inquiry for this posting Harris said he was given the money by UTIMCO because “I got reimbursed for the performance pay I would have left on the table at TRS,” when he departed his previous employer, the Teacher’s Retirement System of Texas. But TRS begs to differ. In response to an open records request, TRS said that Harris left only $118,000 “on the table” as a potential bonus when he resigned to go to UTIMCO, which means Harris got an extra $13,000 a day for his first month in office with the University of Texas—for what, exactly? It’s a potentially corrupt system at the best of times, whether it’s Mark Yudof in Oakland or Britt Harris in Austin and if there haven’t been the bad headlines at UT, like those from UC, it’s only because no one is paying attention not because UT is any less corruptible.
            Actually there have already been bad headlines from Austin. The New York Times reported last year that UTIMCO is one of the major university endowments involved in a shady offshore system of tax avoidance. The Times quoted as an expert a UC professor named Charlie Eaton who studies endowments and who says that major universities, through their investments, are becoming major drivers of inequality in American society, to say nothing of the issue of dubious payments to university money managers. And at least California has an independent auditor. The position of State Auditor in Texas has been left open by the state’s Republican leadership for two years now, insuring that UT, UTIMCO and the rest of the Capitol remain immune to independent examination. Admiral McRaven is actually out of the UTIMCO loop. After his mistake with the Houston campus he was removed from the UTIMCO board, as apparent punishment. (It also seems possible that Zimmerman lost his job over the Houston imbroglio: Where, after all, did that $200 million used to buy the land come from?) And McRaven's transparency instincts, perhaps secondary to Pentagon trainin, have not been good. He has refused to reveal financial details of the land he purchased for Houston, and he spent his first months in office trying to silence a “renegade regent” who dared to question illicit admissions at UT’s flagship campus. Every one of those seats awarded to undeserving but politically-connected white kids could have been given to promising black or Hispanic students instead. McRaven’s tenure in office has coincided with the rise of the single most powerful individual in UT System—and it’s not the chancellor himself. 
            Regents Vice-Chairman Jeffrey Hildebrand, the ninth richest man in the state per Forbes, an oil & gas entrepreneur with a $4 billion fortune who also serves as chairman of the UTIMCO board, is chair of the governing board for university lands and was recently appointed to direct disposal of the huge tract of land that McRaven errantly bought. Regent Hildebrand is, by the way, a major Republican donor with ties to Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the attorney general. (For anyone of a mind to look for ties between Regent Hildebrand and Chancellor McRaven, Hildebrand’s 295-page financial disclosure statement and McRaven’s 71-page version are here.)
            William McRaven is a very-talented guy but the idea that he deserved to be appointed leader of the University of Texas as a reward for his service with the Navy, or that in order to be a world-ranked school UT must have a high-profile leader, is probably an idea whose time has come and gone. That was the thinking that governed Janet Napolitano’s selection in Oakland, after all. Someone who knows higher education might be a better bet. In Austin it was the wrong job for the right guy, you might say. Regardless, McRaven will land on his feet. He has previously been criticized by his contemporaries in Army special forces for being a publicity hound but that may be where his real contribution lies. He has an important story to tell. In his most recent book he mentions in passing that for a time his men were Saddam Hussein’s jailers and among his own responsibilities was to visit the former dictator every day. This is the book he needs to write. 
          It’s unclear if the same prohibitions that bar talking about the Bin Laden raid apply to Hussein’s imprisonment but Adm. McRaven was in a privileged position to understand exactly what the U.S. did in Afghanistan and in Iraq—and to describe evil up close, Saddam Hussein’s and perhaps our own. The title is already a gimme: Conversations with Saddam. That's if McRaven’s health holds up.The former SEAL who served with him back in the day mentioned something scary. Even though he did not stay in the service he kept in touch with many of his buddies. A few of them have died, this ex-SEAL said, “of something they picked up,” in Iraq or Afghanistan. There were no weapons of mass destruction, like nukes, but there were almost certainly lingering biological or chemical threats. What may terminate Admiral McRaven’s still promising career is something he walked through, in Afghanistan, not something he stepped in, in Austin.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Auto-Obituary of Lucius X

In a decades-long career the black revolutionary Lucius X worked across the South but was proudest of his service as correspondent on the Mexican border, an experience that he later described as frustrating only because locals thought he was a narc. “Rio Grande City was a major trans-shipment point, money going one way and drugs the other, I was actually trying to score for myself most of the time I was there,” he reminisced years later of his time on the big river. "I knew the mother lode was in reach but no one would sell to me. That turned out, actually, to be a metaphor for my life.”

Outside the booming drug traffic the beat was so dead that he found time on the weekend to cross the river and catch the train to Mexico City—wandering the Zona Rosa, hanging out on the Reforma near Chapultepec Park and returning to Texas on Monday nights. His employers never even knew he was gone. The only time something happened it was across the river, a drug shipment arrived in a village and the traffickers paid every man, woman and child $100 to participate so that no one could go to the federates later and tell tales. “It was evil in a literary sense which is hard to find as a reporter or so I thought, I’m talking about abuelita can barely walk with her cane but she got a kilo packet under her arm and $100 clenched in her fist. Mothers, children, the elderly and infirm, wasn't a village priest but working as a mule he probably wasn't wearing his collar. I thought I'd never have a chance to write about corruption like that again—but then I moved to Austin!” Lucius X was 61 at the time of his passing. He’s survived by daughter China Bates of Salvador da Bahia and Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil, his lone offspring the result of a brief hook-up in Porto Alegre during the period of his world travels. In the era of Porto Alegre and beyond he would become best known for his wide-ranging international work. “I had a keen eye and a hard dick,” he told The Daily Mail, “and I used both.”

The police always seemed to see him coming.

Despite the nature of his beliefs and activism he was universally described as “cheerful and easy to work with” by former co-workers, as well as humble and well-mannered, "with an extraordinary ability to always say the right thing just like Mandela," according to a former editor. He never cursed or used foul language. “I learned courage,” Lucius X said in his last charla in the press, “from Teddy Pendergrass and Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison.” Before his passing he said the only two items left on his bucket list were robbing a bank and doing supermodel Tyra Banks, both goals he considered unachievable in his lifetime. Long ago abandoning any religious beliefs for the creed of Black Rationalism and what he called “other secular pursuits,” he nonetheless was described as a noble Negro by L’Observatore Romano which added a final blessing, “requiescat in pace," echoed in his native ‘hood as, “RIP, ‘Big Bro.” Although Lucius X’s origins remain obscured in the smoky and violent atmosphere of the pre-civil rights South the best evidence is that this Negro rebel was actually born in L.A., at Queen of Angels Hospital, in 1956. His family lived in South Central which was then middle-class and respectable, “I went ghetto,” he liked to say, “before the neighborhood did.”

A peripatetic mother moved him and five brothers and sisters across the country searching for what she called “the Black Slice of the American Pie,” a piece of pastry that remained forever out of reach. The young Negro picked cotton in the Panhandle and worked in a coal mine in Kentucky to help feed his family. Genetically-unique from birth Lucius X suffered from tri-testonia 3BB, a rare autosomal-dominant condition in which a Black Man-Child is born with three large testicles and inordinate courage. Only one in 14 billion male babies has three big ones. Most often associated with African kings—Hannibal, Ramses II, Shaka Zulu as well as African-Americans Nat Turner, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey all tested tri-testonia positive. The only non-black men believed to have had the condition were Mao Zedong and Genghis Khan, the great Mongolian warlord whose tomb has never been found to be tested. “I was born with three big ones and I’ll die with three,” he told doctors as a teenager, his first refusal to be de-masculated by White Society. 

Often called "a nigger's nigger" and "the thug's thug"—or "thug of thugs," a reference to the “king of kings” in the Bible, Lucius X was also described as a “Thug for All Seasons” because of his wide-ranging interests.

The major focus of his writing other than medical science was the role the White Media play in creating racist views of the liberated Negro male. His extraordinary masculinity and his efforts at outing White Hypocrites were closely related, according to experts. Without the extra virility of a third nut it is believed that he would never have dared to question the status quo. “Like, what's up,” he once asked, with considerable rhetorical flourish, “with that shit?”

Efforts by the X-Man to bring race to the forefront of international dialogue also translated into literary endeavors. His one-act play The Pool Man Cometh about African-Americans entering the middle class just celebrated its 1,000th performance in Stockholm, after being shunned in Texas where Lucius X was blacklisted by The Man's media. “In Austin black school children are the most heavily disciplined and expelled, so the wounding starts early and continues until the police give us the coup de grace. That’s why the Black Man is in such a hurry to have relations with women he meets, not to bust the nut,” he wrote in Esquire, “not for pleasure, nor merely to carve another notch in the Black Man's gun, so to speak, but in order to pass on his genetic inheritance before he dies in a hail of police gunfire.” On the scientific front Lucius X’s groundbreaking sociological theory The Once and Future Negro predicted the end of skin color as a social issue within decades, as optimists have hoped, but its replacement by discrimination based upon theft of African-American DNA. Lucius X reported heavily on efforts by the University of California to attract black children in the minority-heavy East Bay for medical studies, in order to acquire genetic profiles to develop drugs for Big Pharma. “The theft of our inheritance is second on my list in importance to the black community. Major medical research institutions are trying to get blacks to give away data because it’s more varied and therefore more valuable for study than white DNA. Big Pharma will then design drugs and sell the medicine back to us at prices we can’t afford. Ain't that a bitch? It’s slavery all over again.” 

Lucius X was equally-renowned as author of a number of powerful personal essays including “On Shooting a Pig,” and “Letters to a Young Blood” in which he gave advice to the Black Son he never had (“There are two things a Negro can’t allow anybody else to do for him,” he wrote to his unborn child, “his fucking and his fighting.”) The classic essay “Dick Don’t Lie” describes the Black Man’s spiritual relationship with his bone, a piece in which he uttered his famous warning to avoid Caucasian women, “Because white pussy has killed more niggers than gunfire.”

“Electric Negro” speaks to the Negro and technology and was published in the United Kingdom as “The Black Man and the Internet,” in which this prominent theorist predicted the Fall of the White Race through the unfiltered pronouncements of the unchained African-American male. Lucius X noted that historically most oppressors create the means of their own destruction—in the case of The Man he believed the Achilles heel to be the World Wide Web.

“Hills Like Black Elephants” about a young brother being asked to deny paternity of his pregnant girlfriend’s child is included in most international anthologies of short fiction. The public is most accustomed to viewing Lucius X as a man of action: a revolutionary figure whose moves on the court, so to speak, spoke louder than any trash he talked before the game. He was also principal author of the Black Manifesto, now in its sixth printing, which serves to codify the mystic Way of the Negro into a kind of daily etiquette such as knowing when to draw down on a pig—or how to insult a white chick who has mouthed off one time too many. The Little Black Book, as it has come to be known, also offers a soulful meditation on an often-debated, transcendental question, to whom the Black Man owes his primary loyalty—to his posse—or to his bitch.

Lucius X was always intimately attuned to his relationships with women and liked to read women’s magazines, he said, “to know what the enemy is planning. The fundamental conflict is not racial,” he opined, “it’s sexual and I’m not at all sanguine about men’s chances in the long run. Women don’t really need us biologically and they know that. My sense is they’re plotting all the time.”

Indeed, his most controversial work was the science fiction trilogy Planet of the Hos, unfinished at the time of his death, POH recounts the struggle of a Black Man who is admiral of a Federation star fleet seeking what are believed to be pirates raiding robot cargo vessels in an outer nebula. The admiral equips a robotic merchant ship with a tracker and follows its theft to the bosom of the Federation itself, to a planet called Ho, run by women, where men are decorative and used like drones, only for mating. The Black Admiral must fight rebellion among the females of his own crew, who like what they see on the planet surface, and in the climatic scene the Negro-in-charge faces off in a life or death struggle against the ruler of the planet, the Queen of Hos, in a fight which only ends when he conquers her sexually. In notes found at his passing Lucius X intended to end this work with the admiral “meditating eloquently on the struggle to be a Black Man in Outer Space.” The New Yorker has called it “perhaps the ultimate work on race and gender in Deep Space.” Lucius X also left behind the screenplay Black Man Interrupted, written in dark undertones that speculate on the contributions to society—probably not unlike those of Gandhi, or of Madame Curie—that might have been made by a Negro like himself if he weren’t always having to look over his shoulder, especially wary of women who want to de-masculinate him. 

“The medium is the message but more importantly,” Lucius X famously wrote in his internationally influential "Electric Negro," “the writer is the story.”

A founding member of the propaganda arm of the Black Revolutionary Army (BRA), the Black Revolutionary Army Group (BRAG) and Black Army Group (BAG) during the time when BAG was allied with the Pan African Army and before the establishment of the nascent New African Republic, in rural Milam County, Texas, Lucius X transferred to the mobile wing of the Black Resisitance Organization (BRO) and served in the Black Armed Struggle (BAS) before BAS’s eventual infiltration and destruction by informants of the FBI. He famously foreswore armed conflict after entering nursing school on Galveston Island, where his mother was born, later in the day. During his time working as a R.N. at Children’s Hospital he was known as “The Angel in Black” for the color of his scrubs and for his compassion.

Lucius X made a point of being well-traveled in an age when many People of Color did not have the opportunity to go abroad or were afraid to leave the Great Satan, “like a prisoner who has been behind bars so long he's afraid to leave the cell.”

He was teaching English in China during the Tiananmen Square protests—and declined to be evacuated, as he recounted to Radio France, “because my students voted to continue classes. I wasn’t cheering for the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] exactly but I found it interesting that the Party had done the most for the same people who wanted to bring it down.” Before that he bummed around Israel during his apprenticeship as a Young Blood, mostly the Western Galilee where there was so much good livestock—"who knew how to treat a Negro right," when the first IDF incursion into Lebanon took place, a.k.a. Israel's First Lebanon War, the first of many. The equipment was American. In his personal life he was a vegetarian and a self-described “reverse-snob” preferring to say what he hadn’t done when he visited an exotic locale rather than what he did. Lucius X was a freak about a lot of shit but one personal particularity was his preference always to travel by train.

The week-long Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing: the ticket cost only $200 bribe included, but took two weeks hanging out in Moscow to find someone to pay off in the still shortage-prone new post-Soviet Russia. He claimed to have been to Egypt seven times without seeing a pyramid although he passed the ruins of Abu Simbal once on a riverboat going down the Nile to catch the train to Khartoum: “That is an example of reverse-snobbery,” he later explained. Arriving in Wadi Halfa, Sudan, which he was told was the hottest inhabited place on earth but may have been a lie, when he asked the locals what time the Khartoum train would leave the completely un-ironic response, “After it gets here,” and no one knew when that would be either.

In his own Texas this Negro visionary saw the Alamo just twice—both times from the outside and both by accident. He refused to recognize the old Spanish mission as anything more than a symbol of White Imperialism. This exceptional Negro traveled widely from a young age and had certain experiences that, individually, were not life-changing but collectively changed his life. Mostly, he did that on trains. The narrow gauge of Ferrocarrriles de Guatemala became his earliest mobile laboratory to explore the political extremes. This was actually the black man before he knew he was the Black Man, before his social consciousness was fully mature, before his life’s work became defeating the “white bitches,” no matter their race or gender. His most valuable lesson about women, which eventually translated into the writing of Planet of the Hos, came on the Mexican railway. Waiting to board the express from Oaxaca to the Distrito Federal he met a hot Brazilian chick and her Swedish boyfriend on the same journey. At Puebla the federales boarded the train with an informant who picked out the couple as drug runners and as the narcs searched the Brazilian babe’s backpack she burst into tears, invoking the sanctity of womanhood, which did not deter the pigs from their search but led young Lucius X to her defense as a Black Gentleman.

He was busy ragging the pigs when they reached the bottom of her pack and pulled out two large sealed plastic bags: Oaxacan Gold, smelled like really good shit, a kilo, easy, and as the police prepared to take Lucius X into custody as an accomplice—the American Negro executed a particularly adroit U-turn and cut the Brazilian chick loose, expressing shock and telling the cops to do their duty. It was then that Lucius X learned one of life’s great lessons, that a crying woman is usually guilty as hell of whatever accusation led to the tears. The only reason he was so late coming to this conclusion was his own rearing among black females. He said that he never saw the women in his family cry. This was the beginning of the Black Man writ large.

The nascent Black Revolutionary’s first impression of the Chinese was an eastern form of bias, anyone who wasn’t of the Yellow Race was automatically suspect as illiterate—a barbarian even in the eyes of a farmer who spent his day working in ox dung. Instead Lucius X came to realize there was a class distinction among the Chinese themselves, even Communists, and even when talking to foreigners: if you didn’t have an education you have no standing in society, capitalist or communist or anywhere else. Like a nigger who doesn’t have a coherent rap or worldview, you’re just taking up space—in the People’s Republic, just another mouth to feed. It was then, with this foundation in practice that Lucius X made his critical breakthrough in revolutionary theory. Race is not about skin color, it’s about education or its handmaiden, money—it’s about power, and people who say they don’t like niggers are only using skin color as a means to get more cash, he wrote in his journal at the time, now on display at Patrice Lumumba University, in Kinshasa. The page is dated July 1, 1988, his Independence Day, the same day he composed the first draft of “On Shooting a Pig” and a date that many have come to recognize as marking the Liberation of the Negro Intellectual in modern America. He never felt he “knew” the Chinese either, just as whites, including those he called “media bitches” at home in the U.S., who prey on the Black Man and his Hispanic brothers and sisters, don’t really know him or his people. After China, which he translated into the internal reality of his own Black Manhood, his interests turned to the very social constructs by which we live and what he called “the currents of human experience,” as exemplified by differing forms of connectivity, expressed most often by political corruption and “the biggie,” race: "read, education, class and money." That was his revolution. That was his Civil War, too. His rap was immaculate, often practiced in train cars.

Despite his affinity for words, Lucius X believed more in numbers—especially measurements —“and the healing power of human touch. The Black Man has been greatly misunderstood on his journey across America, I would say,” he remarked in an oral history two months before his passing in Mexico on the 12th of last month, by his own hand, after a decades-long period of ill health. His sickness had been diagnosed as a kind of “metaphysical dysfunction” common among Black Men born in the Pre-Barack age, brought about by living too long in the toxic white environment of the U.S. 

“We’re very much team players not the lone wolves or rogue elephants the media portray. There’s no egotism to speak of in the community of Black Scholars, like me, not like white guys who want all the headlines and the chicks. The Negro intellectual is humble and sensitiveBarack and I for example,” he said, “Dr. King of course—even the greatest X-man of us all, Brother Malcolm whom I have often been compared to—we all share or shared an extraordinary sensitivity I would call it.” He noted however, “White people misinterpret that sensitivity as vulnerability which it is not.”

In the world of narrative journalism he was known in his lifetime for striking honesty: from his earliest days it’s said that other children called the young Negro “Honest Lucius” for his spoken veracity—and “Lightfinger Lucius” for the ease with which he expropriated ill-gotten goods from those he called the “the Oppressors," also known as The Man. Lucius X claimed not to be “a big reader” but he respected books as the still formidable technology of his day.

His favorite titles were The PrinceThe Little Prince, the last few pages of Billy BuddLight in the PiazzaMaigret and the Hotel MajesticPlanet of the Apes and Bridge Over the River Kwai, the last two works both by the underrated Pierre Boulle. Challenged by an interviewer who pointed out that none of these works was created by a Black Artist, Lucius X reluctantly amended the list to include his own Babylon on the Colorado 2.0, “because of the big balls displayed in getting the story and the sheer humanity of the primary protagonist, me.” Lucius X also played a mean horn and was adept at the skin flute. In his short life he wore many dashikis. After his first arrest he said he felt journalism not politics more suited his native-born abilities. “I’ve always had a talent for pissing off white people and I’ve tried to put that to good use.” Throughout his career, Lucius X tried to create an authentic Portrait of the Black Revolution in this country, "etched in charcoal," as he described it, "and painted in black."

Lucius X’s personal history, his biography, autobiography and auto-obituary are the life and times of one of the most extraordinary Negroes of our age, an "International Nigger" as he called himself, the ultimate "Blood without Borders” as he was known by the public. The Auto-Obituary of Lucius X is actually misleading however. A-O is more a utility, the software that enables the hardware that is often nine-mil.

What matters, Lucius X believed, is whether a plan is righteous and how smooth is the rap that describes it. If you get all the chicks, fine, that’s well and good, but pussy is not what it's all about. “After you complete your first good draft, keep updating, once a year at least take time out to talk to your Inner Negro even if it’s only for a few minutes and make the changes, like with a résumé, which in a way is exactly what it is,” he said of auto-obituary. “Keep that bitch up to date. Living in this motherfucker you never know when you’ll need it, you feel me?” The auto-obituary resembles a life’s résumé, so to speak, the highpoints of what one has done and was capable of, skills and references included. Like most résumés there’s a tendency to include what one wishes were true or would be true if things hadn't happened the way they did. 

Lucius X's most important nonfiction covered the spectrum of Lone Star reporting in recent decades and explored a rich vein of small town bullshit in Travis County, Texas, except in this world Caucasians not Negroes serve as comic relief. His statistical study, “They Shoot Niggers, Don’t They?” for Texas Mostly precipitated the dramatic change in views of how white cops behave in black communities, pointing to the hypocrisy of the White Press which has served as primary enabler in police-sponsored genocide perpetrated against the endangered two-legged Texas black cat.

Historically and in terms of his literary contribution Lucius X is best known as author of what is considered the greatest single work of Post-Revolutionary Black Literature, the unique story of Human Redemption that has served to light a fuse for an entire generation in The Struggle. Nigger on the Run is the chronicle of the small-town thug Flood, the mythic “Every Nigger,” a petty gangbanger who escapes arrest in Mississippi where he’s been robbing supermarkets after parole and goes to West Africa and discovers his own personal Promised Land. Like the author himself, Flood has three balls but unlike Lucius X he lacks the self-control to deal with the waves of sudden masculinity that eventually destroy him. He has capped a pig as the story begins, and just been executed, and his time on the Dark Continent is recounted by another condemned prisoner, just as Flood had described his trip to the Motherland to his cellmates. The African experience allows Flood to rise above baser instincts that he was born with, the sociopathic urges caused, in part, by having three big ones. Only when he returns to the source of his dysfunction, Mississippi, is he doomed. In this short work Lucius X portrays a felonious brother "who achieves Black Liberation not in America but from America," according to Michiko Kakutani of the Times. Denzel Washington, preparing to perform in the stage adaptation, has described the role of Flood as the most difficult in the Black Oeuvre, "similar to Hamlet but deeper."

Lucius X’s one-man show Black Rage featured the Negro alone on stage, sitting in a chair with a bright light in his eyes like a police interrogation, rapping about his experience as a Black Man in America.

Lucius X’s equally-acclaimed experimental work Babylon on the Colorado 2.0 relates the origins of Gangster Journalism during the author’s “misspent youth” as a newspaper reporter in what was then small-town River City, now big-city Austin, and remained his personal favorite. BOC 2.0 has been described as an example of Black Art that can truly be said, according to the New Yorker, “to be one of the few multi-generational works of American non-fiction, a book that will still be read centuries if not millennia from now.” Rejecting the historical role of the Negro as “victim” of the nefarious white man and woman (Lucius X found little difference between the Caucasian sexes in terms of exploitation of blacks, “only with white chicks it seems like fun”), instead this revolutionary Negro chose the role of an equally-nefarious Black Avenger. The object of his Black Justice? “The Man who tries to beat us down and deny us a piece of the American pie.” Thus the Black Circle is closed. With race as a continuous backdrop to his own extraordinary narrative, and having lived most of his life in the South, including segregated schooling in Alabama, back in the day, Lucius X wrote that he was actually first called nigger in Scarsdale, N.Y. 

The Black Revolutionary described the University of California San Francisco where he did his graduate work before being kicked out for raising the issue of UC’s poorer care of black children as “the single most segregated environment” he ever saw in modern America. The much-anticipated narrative of his time in San Francisco A Nigger in Nursing was posted online. Toward the end of his reporting career Lucius X said he considered George W. Bush the closest he ever saw to “pure evil” in a public figure, "and if not evil, well, he's certainly the biggest son of a bitch." He described the University of California as the single most corrupt institution he personally ever experienced, “far worse than anything I saw in Texas under the Republicans or in China under the Party.” His much-admired masterwork Cathy Comes to China is set during the Tiananmen Square protests and features “a spoiled corn-fed American girl from the Midwest,” as described in the introduction, “who tries to relax straight-laced Maoist society by fucking every guy she meets.” CCC was unfinished at the time of X’s death, as was most of this Black Artist’s best work including Babylon on the Colorado 3.0, the fictionalized version of his reporting on the Great Capitol Fire. Speaking last year of the possibility Babylon on the Colorado 3.0 will be turned into a film Lucius X expressed a preference in choosing the actor who will portray him for “someone with the gravitas of a young Denzel and the raw sexual magnetism of Idris Elba."  

“Lucius X was a noble Negro. Within the literary community he has already been lionized as a Black Warrior who laid down the spear voluntarily in order to pick up the pen,” said editor Jake Schloss. “He was always a joy to work with professionally, that’s what we in Texas remember most." 

Historians agree about X’s seminal role in The Struggle but not everyone agrees exactly what that role was. “My father was a nigger to be reckoned with,” said his daughter, China Bates, speaking of his literary reputation. “That is his greatest legacy—not to be ghetto or anything but he didn’t take no shit off nobody, white nor black nor brown. Asiaticos, tampouco. He made confrontation into a science and an art and I miss him every time I have to go off on some lying bitch.”

Despite being famously modest and humble, “just another nigger” in his own words, Lucius X was inordinately proud of the places he had gone in life and the things he had not seen or not done when he got there. He counted five trips in his youth to Paris chasing a girlfriend-of-the-time and never even glimpsing the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. An equal number of visits to London without seeing Big Ben or Windsor Castle, although an English friend did take him to the gallery of Parliament where he watched a pre-Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher eviscerating opponents. He stayed at the empty guest house at Beijing University with his own room for $10 a night, wandering the hutong during the day and fancying himself later as the first Negro and last Westerner in Beijing to pay $10 for anything more substantial than a cup of tea. There were two years in San Francisco without riding a cable car or seeing the Gold Gate Bridge—except once, by accident, when he took the wrong bus. In perhaps his proudest moment of non-awareness of his surroundings, halfway through a two-year stay in Minneapolis, working on the pediatrics ward of the county hospital, talking to another R.N. at the nurse’s station Lucius X asked what was the name of the river running through town.

His co-worker turned to him, eyebrows raised, incredulity on her face and replied, “It’s called the Mississippi.” Through the years he passed Machu Pichu a dozen times on buses crisscrossing South America and never stopped. A half-dozen visits to Brazil, sometimes for months at a time, but never Rio. All of which made where he did go and what he did see when he got there all the more impressive. To say nothing of what he did. “In Negro veritas,” he tried to explain.

Lucius X declined to become involved in the movement to pay African-Americans for the harmful effects of slavery—even though he himself was the descendant of slaves. This exceptional X-Man said that he was instead a believer in so-called “reparations-on-the-go” in which blacks take from white society, in small chunks, compensation for past wrongs, usually when no one is looking.

Lucius X estimated that in his own life he achieved the often-cited but rarely-reached $20,000 figure that blacks have asked of the federal government as indemnification for slavery and Jim Crow, “mostly on the bulk aisle at Whole Foods.” Although not merely because of the quantity he grazed, the Black Revolutionary explained, in characteristic modesty, “but because of Whole Foods’ high prices.” “His honesty was like a breath of fresh air in a world where the egos of undeserving hipsters often run wild,” wrote the Times at the opening of The Pool Man Commeth.

In summing up his own life Lucius X said he attempted to “reach the other side” in which he could express his Black Manhood not without fear of retaliation by so-called white bitches, male and female, Black and white—something which he doubted was possible—but without the retaliation having any effect. That was the goal of his life, not fame nor fortune, not the most pussy nor the best herb, “but the coherence of my rap. Commentators have read me too literally, missing the allegory,” he said.

Except in matters of race Lucius X was, he declared, “all about doubt and uncertainty because that’s a nigger’s life, even for the virtuous right-thinking morally-centered three-balled nigger like me.” The frequent criticism leveled against his work that he turned whites into “stick figures” was particularly misplaced, he countered. “We know white people. How could we not, working in their homes and kitchens and driving them around? Taking care of their spoiled little fuckhead kids? But they don’t know us because when they go to the Black Community they’re always just passing through like tourists, you dig? We are in their homes to work, usually to clean up the messes they’ve made.” In lieu of flowers the X Family asks those over sixteen to fire up a fat one and “put on some funk.” Preferably “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” by the Gap Band.