I'll have more on the explosion in West later today (at Texas Monthly), but in the meantime, here's some context on Texas City, from my book--it's in the chapter called "The Shadow State". The quotes are from Bill Minutaglio's excellent narrative history of the disaster, City on Fire, which I would recommend for additional context:

In 1976, Texas Monthly, the monthly magazine about Texas, published a long article asking why Dolph Briscoe, then the incumbent governor, even wanted the job. He was apparently spending as little time in Austin as possible, preferring to decamp to his ranch in Uvalde, but the details of his schedule were a bit vague, given that Briscoe's office had repeatedly declined or ignored requests to tell the press how the governor was spending his time, leaving reporters to try to puzzle it out by looking at scraps of evidence such as the state payroll records for "acting governors." (Whenever a governor leaves Texas, the state has to hire a substitute.) The few comments Briscoe had offered were not reassuring; he had said, for example, that he didn't even keep an agenda himself, preferring to rely on what his secretary told him. The article's writer, Griffin Smith Jr., noted that this kind of thing would never happen if Texas had a CEO: "If a corporation ran its headquarters with the same haphazard accountability, it would be out of business in six months." Two years later, the state elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction: Bill Clements, a businessman from Dallas.


At times, Texans have seemed to trust businessmen more than their own government. On a steamy morning in April 1947, for example, there was a fire on board the French vessel SS Grandcamp. The ship had pulled into the port of Texas City, just inland from Galveston Island, the night before, and when the fire triggered an explosion--the Grandcamp was carrying more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, much of the town was flattened. Nearly 600 people were killed; some 5,000 were injured, in many cases gruesomely; and about 2,000 were left homeless. It was, and remains, the deadliest industrial accident in American history.


People in Texas City felt that the government was to blame: no one had warned them of the explosive potential of ammonium nitrate, and after the catastrophe, the federal government was disinclined to pitch in. "Two weeks after the explosion, the small-town mayor flew to Washington to appear before the House Appropriations Committee, to beg them to approve a measure allocating a mere $15m to repair Texas City," wrote Texan journalist Bill Minutaglio. "The money [would] never come." 


THe next year, the widows of Texas City became the first Americans to sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1948--a new law that gave Americans, for the first time, the right to hold the federal government liable for certain damages. A district court ruled in their favor. In 1953, however, the Supreme Court turned them down, reasoning that people didn't have the right to sue the government over things that had happened during the normal business of governing. Europe had been devastated by World War II. Rebuilding it was in the interests of the United States. Fertilizer would help. And so the ammonium nitrate shipments were a national security issue. Sorry, widows.


Luckily, Texas City had some help from the private sector. Within days of the explosion, the people got what they considered to be good news. Monsanto, one of the biggest employers in the city, announced that it would resume operations as soon as possible. It would build a new chemical plant even bigger than the old one, which had burned down. "In Texas City, if there is resistance to the idea of Monsanto rebuilding its massive chemical plant, not a word is uttered publicly," explained Minutaglio. "There is, instead, widespread relief. It is saluted as industry's instant belief in the future of Texas City. There will be jobs again. Someone, at least, thinks that the city is worth reclaiming." Charities also helped with the rebuilding. Sam Maceo, a businessman and mobster from Galveston, launched the Texas City Relief Fund and arranged for Frank Sinatra to sing at a benefit concert.


It seemed like a clear-cut case: in the absence of a strong, or even adequate, public sector, alternatives emerged. Business was the big one. 
 
 
I'll be on tomorrow, talking about the book. Local air times are here (the audio will also be online after the show). 
 
 
Is available here. It's by Bryan Burrough (who is the author of The Big Rich, and who was so gracious about the error he caught when I emailed him about it--read the review, it's kind of funny).
 
 
Ok, the next book event is tomorrow--I'll be at the Texas Book Festival's first-ever San Antonio edition. It'll be me and Texas historian James L. Haley, with the incorrigible Evan Smith moderating us. 

10-11 am at the Ursuline Campus of the Southwest School of Art, Gallery Shop. We'll be sticking around afterward to sign books. 

And speaking of San Antonio: a Q&A with the Rivard Report
 
 
Picture
On the 27th I started a trip to Barcelona for Elisa's wedding. The only bad part of the situation was that it had to be a quick trip because it's the middle of session and I have a book coming out on April 23rd. Other than that I was looking forward to everything, including, sort of, the long plane ride. Depicted at left is my idea of fun. 

Picture
We had rented a couple of apartments in Tim and Elisa's neighborhood, Gracia, which used to be a free-standing town until pretty recently ('recently' by European standards. I don't know what that means. A thousand years?)

Picture
Most of the weekend was devoted to eating and telling jokes. Over there is some pan al tomate, that great Catalan deconstruction of what it means to be food. Here's a joke: Two peanuts walked into a bar. One was a salted. 

And another joke: Two peanuts walked into a bar. One was a salted, in plain's delighted.

And as long as we're deconstructing: Which joke is funnier?

Picture


So in other words, it was a fantastic wedding. 

Picture
We all thought so. Congratulations, Elisa and Tim!

Picture
I was so tired by the time I got back that I didn't even play any jokes for April Fool's day. I was still pretty tired by the time my birthday rolled around on Wednesday, although the day did have a pretty festive feeling because my friend Jeremy was in town from New York--as seen at right--made a band shirt for the book. !!!

Picture
Plus things were pretty busy at work. At this point in session all kinds of things are happening. For example, on Wednesday or Thursday the people from Sea World brought an armadillo to the Capitol. 

Picture
And April 4th the House passed the budget bill (and this session has been so copacetic so far that they wrapped it up before 10 pm, prompting a parliamentary and historical inquiry from Rep. Villalba about whether that has ever happened before.

Picture
Early enough, in fact, that I had time to meet up with my friend Scott, who was celebrating his birthday at Grand Billiards and take him and his friend Byron, visiting from Santa Fe, to Mrs Johnson's for donuts. 

Picture
On Friday I took a break to see my brother Mark, who is heading to Minnesota for the next few months. We wanted to hang out but we also wanted to swap cars, because my car is (a) reliable, low-maintenance and great for driving, (b) a total magnet for opportunistic petty crime. Last month someone threw a tombstone through the window. A tombstone! It's fixed now, though, so Minnesotans: if you see a guy like this in a 97 Civic, be nice to him. Not "Minnesota nice," the normal kind. 

Picture
Nothing says summer like the inefficient use of time. Therefore on Saturday I was determined to bumble around: picked up my friend Spencer, late lunch at Chuy's, an effort to go to Barton Springs only to find the gate closed, an effort to go to Barton Springs the official way only to find the whole thing closed because earlier in the week the city had experienced an entire hour of torrential rain, a detour to get gas because we had been bumbling around so much that we were on the verge of running out, and, eventually, a trip to Deep Eddy. 

Picture
Eventually we went to Liberty, where I was having a belated birthday party. Although to say "we went" is an exaggeration because Spencer, taking bumbling to its logical conclusion, had taken my car to stop by a child's party, where he was vomited on by a child, causing him to go home to change, causing me, still at Deep Eddy, to give up and get a Car2Go, where Spencer eventually rejoined the group. Here he is, showing the arrogance that comes from wearing clean clothes. 

Picture


It turned out to be Paul Qui day too. 

Picture
And while we were there I found out (via a cryptic text message from my dad) that the New York Times had posted a review of the book. 

Awesome! 

I do, however, have a little catching up to do. There'll be some updates here shortly.