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June 2010

The Obama Administration Is Failing the Gulf Coast

As I've mentioned before, I really have not wanted to reflexively blame the Obama administration for not doing more to contain and collect the oil spewing out of British Petroleum's disaster. But I keep hearing more and more stories of delays, red tape, and inefficiency. This column by Winston Groom in today's Mobile Register crystallizes my growing dismay (Groom is the author of Forrest Gump and lives in Point Clear, a few miles from me):

" wonder what the administration’s response would be if the oil were spilling up in Long Island Sound and threatening New York Harbor, or in San Francisco Bay — or, worse still, in Nantucket Sound, soiling the immaculate beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod."

You really don't have to wonder for very long, do you? No resources and no expense would have been spared. No excuses would have been accepted. I don't know, obviously, what's in the president's mind, but he and the people around him are from a class that tends to consider most of the south to be a repulsive place, a land of racist morons and a liability to the rest of the country. I don't say they would consciously choose to take a catastrophe here less seriously than one on the east coast, but that they would do so unconsciously I have no trouble at all believing. One needn't even postulate hostility, just a sense that this part of the country is really not that important.

One gets the sense that Obama himself is mostly annoyed by the whole thing, and that he is less interested in protecting the coast than in using the disaster to advance other agendas. This report of a meeting today bears that out. Granted, that's a hostile source, but the original source is not (I can't link to it because it requires a subscription), and the gist of the story fits with the big speech of a couple of weeks ago, with the continued slow pace of the response as indicated in stories like this one

Here is Winston Groom at greater length and with more specifics. He seems to be wrong, by the way, about the effect of the Jones Act, according to Admiral Allen. But whatever the reasons, there seems no doubt that the skimmers capable of keeping the oil away from our shores are in very short supply here, and sitting idle elsewhere. Probably there are explanations for that, having to do with regulations and logistical difficulties. That it would take a few weeks to get around those obstacles is understandable. But the spill has now been going on for over two months. People here are becoming deeply angry and embittered.

And I can't resist adding: if this had been President Bush, he would have been the object of non-stop vilification and ridicule by people who are mostly quiet now. I'm thinking of the conventional center-left press here; I think serious environmentalists have not been so docile.

Of course the administration is not responsible for the spill. BP gets the blame for that (there is some evidence that ultimately it was one BP employee who made the fatal decision that led to the blowout.) And the Bush administration can be blamed for lax standards at the Minerals Management Service, the agency that was supposed to regulate the oil industry. But Obama's Secretary of the Interior failed to follow through on promises of reform. By all accounts little had changed at MMS.

So the government failed at oversight, and is fumbling the response. Yet it complains that people don't trust it to run the health care system sensibly. 

The Dream Academy: Life In a Northern Town

Weekend Music

How many times does it happen that you hear the chorus of a song coming from the radio through someone's open car window as you're walking through the parking lot at work, and it haunts you so that you have to find out what it is? Not very often for me. In fact I think only once, with this song.

Oh my goodness, am I going to learn to like Kerouac?

At the time in my life when I was young and rebellious and might have been expected to like Kerouac and the other Beat writers, I had no use for them at all. I was a grungy rock-and-roll-loving hippie, yes, but my literary tastes were strictly highbrow: I liked Yeats and Eliot and Hopkins and wasn’t entirely convinced that any American had ever written well. I sampled a bit of Kerouac’s work and thought his prose slack and bland, its self-proclaimed excitement only proclaimed, not produced.

But I’ve been looking at Robert Frank’s famous book of photographs, The Americans, which includes an introduction by Kerouac. And I rather enjoyed it.

Madroad driving men ahead—the mad road, lonely, leading around the bend into the openings of space toward the horizon Wasatch snows promised us in the vision of the west, spine heights at the world’s end, coast of blue Pacific starry night—nobone half-banana moons sloping in the tangled night sky, the torments of great formations in mist, the huddled invisible insect in the car racing onward, illuminate—The raw cut, the drag, the butte, the star, the draw, the sunflower in the grass—orangebutted west lands of Arcadia, forlorn sands of the isolate earth, dewy exposures to infinity in black space, home of the rattlesnake and the gopher—the level of the world, low and flat...

I haven’t entirely changed my opinion—this isn’t really all that good—but I guess I’m more tolerant. If you just sort of sit back and let it roll by without looking at it too closely, it’s evocative, and you can feel Kerouac’s delight and awe in the simple experience of seeing this mad land of ours. Maybe I’ll actually read one of his novels someday.

Here’s an interesting video of Kerouac reading on The Steve Allen Show. Steve Allen was a cool guy.

Derb on Soccer

I am linking to this anti-soccer rant from alienated Englishman (and all-around curmudgeon) John Derbyshire because I think it's funny, not because I agree with it (my view is here, in case you missed it—and care). Sample:

The very inconclusiveness of soccer is, I suspect, what has made it the pet sport of the repulsive bobos—David Brooks' "bourgeois bohemians."... In their soft, money-addled minds, these deluded wretches associate soccer with things "civilized" and European: with French wines and Danish pastries, with tiny, fuel-efficient cars and eighteen different varieties of coffee, with universal health care and the prohibition of handguns. How wrong-headed is all this? One hardly knows where to begin.

In fact, it seems to me that attention paid to the World Cup in the US by non-bobos is noticeably higher than at the last go-round. And I’m glad we won this morning (USA 1, Algeria 0).

The Man On the Moon Fallacy

Sunday Night Journal — June 20, 2010

I caught only the last few words of Mr. Obama’s Tuesday night speech on the Gulf Coast oil spill, and have just now tracked down the text and read it (you can find it here). As you may have heard, the speech was not especially well received, even by his admirers. Here are two examples snagged in about 90 seconds of searching: Robert Reich calls it “ vapid,” and Kevin Drum (in Mother Jones, no less) says “This speech felt entirely by-the-numbers to me....It felt like he was reading off a PowerPoint deck.”

I have been very, very tempted to blast Obama’s handling of the spill, but have resisted the temptation. In fact I don’t think Obama has done such a terrible job, though I think it could have been better, and in any event the initial response was really not his direct responsibility. I will say that he didn’t seem to treat it with the needed level of urgency and decision until it had already been under way for some weeks.

The big temptation for me comes from resentment of the difference between the way the media at large treated Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and Obama’s handling of the oil spill. Within a few days of Katrina, most of the media had reached a consensus that Bush’s responsibility for the disaster stopped only at the question of whether he had personally created and directed the storm, and even this sometimes seemed to be an open question. Years later, Katrina is still mentioned in the same breath as the Iraq War as a massive failure of the Bush administration. This is vastly, vastly unfair. And however disappointed Obama’s supporters in the media (which includes almost everyone apart from Fox News and talk radio) may have been with his response to the BP spill, they will never hang it around his neck as a permanent badge of shame as they did with Bush and Katrina.

But that’s business as usual. Hardly a day goes by, and never a week, that there isn’t something in the news that makes me think If a Republican said or did that.... And I try not to let myself fall into the reactionary cycle that seems to drive most political commentary.

So back to the speech: there are a lot of relatively small things to pick at—for instance, the assertion that an energy bill passed by the House last fall “finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses.” Really? How, exactly, can mere legislation make something profitable, except by some manipulative combination of subsidies and taxes which might or might not bear any relationship to its real costs and benefits?

Most striking, though, is the enormous fallacy which appears as the climax of the speech, the summit of its ambition to solve the problem in both its immediate and long-term aspects. It’s what I think of as the man-on-the-moon fallacy (and I’m far from the only one to remark on it): it usually takes the form of “If we can put a man on the moon, we can [insert whatever problem the speaker is interested in].”

Well, maybe we can, and maybe we can’t. It all depends on the nature of the problem to be solved. I first heard this fallacy pointed out many years ago by my father (who, as it happens, was involved in the space program for a while in the 1960s). It was during the first energy crisis, or perhaps I should say the first recognition of the ongoing energy crisis, in the mid-1970s. He and one of my uncles were discussing the oil shortage, and my uncle wanted to know why the government couldn’t just call together the nation’s most gifted scientists and engineers and solve the problem—develop some kind of new energy source. “If we can put a man on the moon...” he said.

But no, my father explained. It doesn’t work that way. The problem of putting a man on the moon and the problem of finding a new source of cheap energy are not the same sort of problem. In the first case all the physical principles were well known, and at the time President Kennedy made the commitment to accomplish it by the end of the 1960s a fair amount of the engineering work had been done, enough to verify that the basic ideas were workable. It is no disparagement of the eventual achievement to say that the project involved no scientific breakthrough, but rather the heroic development of known ideas. Whereas—my father continued—a solution to the energy problem requires an engineering or scientific breakthrough: either a radically new approach to some known process or material that would get vastly more energy out of it, or, even further afield, a theoretical breakthrough, the discovery of an entirely new method of generating energy safely, reliably, and at reasonable cost. And—this was his last point—you can’t produce a breakthrough on demand. You can put a lot of people to work looking for one, but you can’t guarantee that they’ll find anything.

Ever since then, I’ve seen the question of “alternative” energy in the light of that conversation. Around the time of that exchange, we began to hear the appeals and promises for alternative energy sources that we’ve heard steadily ever since, and that Mr. Obama repeats in his address, exhorting us to a more zealous commitment to their development, ending with not just the man-on-the-moon fallacy but two of its frequent companions: the Manhattan Project and the industrial output of the United States during World War II. The Manhattan Project was (I think) more doubtful than the moon project, in that its theoretical principles were less settled and there could be no incremental experimentation comparable to what could be done with small unmanned rockets in relation to space flight—no little bombs. Still, the scientists were pretty sure about where they were trying to go, and it was essentially a matter of engineering to get there.

And the comparison to World War II industrialism is almost completely irrelevant. We knew how to build airplanes and ships, we only needed to assemble the resources required to build lots more of them. But the problem with, for instance, wind power is not that the supply of turbines is inadequate, but that the amount of electricity they can produce is so small that we would have to cover vast reaches of land with them to make a serious dent in our consumption of oil and coal. The problem with solar power (well, one of the problems) is that the materials which can convert solar power to electricity are expensive and inefficient. The problem with electric cars is that since most of our electricity comes from coal they are in essence coal-powered cars.

And so on. I’m not an expert in this field by any means, but as far as I can tell the situation with regard to alternative energy has not changed dramatically since that conversation between my father and my uncle thirty-five years ago. Even if wind, solar, etc., were widely implemented they would bring their own forms of pollution and other environmental damage with them.

Mr. Obama has not given us the difficult truth, any more than his predecessors have. There is no green-energy fairy who is going to wave a wand and give us all the environmentally-friendly inexpensive energy we want. Nuclear power, which the president did not mention, may—may—come nearest, and although as it’s been implemented in this country it’s been very safe, it carries the risk of doing far more damage with one failure than most other forms of energy production (though I have to say I’m not sure a nuclear plant could do more widespread damage than this oil spill).

There’s no free lunch. There’s no silver bullet. There’s no Santa Claus. Choose your aphorism: the fact is that, absent some breakthrough which can’t be commanded or even foreseen, we can’t “solve” the energy problem in any way that does not leave us with some combination of danger, pollution, and expense in which the levels of at least one of those factors is greater than we as a nation are currently willing to accept. I don’t know whether Mr. Obama realizes this or not. But if he does, and chose not to say it (perhaps for fear of seeming like another Jimmy Carter), he may have done his immediate interests as well as the nation’s future a disservice. It’s just possible that such honesty would have been better received by both his supporters and his detractors. It’s just possible that the American public is ready to hear some realistic discussion of realistic limits.

But then I’m not sure I would bet on that, and maybe Obama didn’t want to, either.

More specifics on the obstacles in the way of massively reducing of our oil and coal consumption by Robert J. Samuelson here.

Little and Ashley: Stole My Heart

Weekend Music

Pure pop candy. Don't try to pretend you don't like it. It will probably get stuck in your head if you listen to it more than once, so just accept it. The video is just the lyrics, which aren’t exactly difficult or obscure, so no need to watch.

There’s Oil in Mobile Bay Now

Not a lot yet, but some. This is the view from the bay shore at my house about 7 this morning. The yellow stripe that you see in this picture wasn't there yesterday. It's an oil containment "boom"--basically a chain of floats that are supposed to stop oil on the surface (more information here if you're curious). It works when the water is calm. I guess this is 150-200 yards (about the same number of meters) off shore.

If you've wondered why I haven't said more about the spill, it's because thinking about it gives me a sort of sick stoic despair that doesn't produce words.

My World Cup Post

Considering my vast international audience, I thought I should offer some comment on the World Cup, which I know is of immense interest in most of the world outside the USA. First, I would like to ask people who want to point out that the name of the game is "football", not "soccer," to get over it, please. We quite understand that "football" is a more descriptively apt name for what we call soccer. But we didn't start calling it soccer just to annoy the rest of the world. For one thing, "football" was already taken by another sport, however illogically (since kicking the ball is far from the main feature of American football). For another, we didn't just pull the word "soccer" out of the air and start using it to annoy everybody else—we got it from the English, who, after all, invented the game.

Now, about the relative American indifference to professional soccer, discussion of which always quickly comes round to that standard American complaint: "soccer is boring." The World Cup always brings out a certain sort of American crank who denounces the sport, which in turn produces a huge argument. That took place one day last week at Inside Catholic (and please note that the idea that "soccer is ruining America" is tongue-in-cheek). I'll quote here what I said in that discussion: a former soccer dad I have a mild interest in the game. And the way it's played by high-schoolers and up, male and female, it's most definitely not for sissies. Still, I never was able to get into it the way I do football and to a lesser extent baseball and basketball. I decided that the problem is a lack of tension. In football, for instance, you have a series of well-defined dramatic moments that end in victory or failure (each play), within the longer story of each first down series, within the longer story of each possession and its attempted march toward the goal, within the longer story of the entire game. There's a lot of tension and release.

But soccer, for those who aren't expert in it, seems pretty aimless--run up and down the field, kick the ball all over the place, and keep doing that for ten, twenty, thirty minutes or more without any one significant event or milestone like a first down, to say nothing of a goal. The same might be said of basketball but the frequent shooting and scoring gives it some drama. In baseball you have the drama of every pitch, with a huge variety of possible significant outcomes. In soccer teams can go a while without even getting a shot on goal. 90-minute games end in a score of 3-2. I'm sure it can be exciting if you can see the subtleties, but most Americans can't.

I should amend that: 3-2 is actually a fairly high-scoring game. One of the first games in this World Cup, I think, ended 0-0, another 1-0.

And of course (heh): England 1, USA 1. I was interested enough to want to see this game, but I didn't think I was going to be able to, as my wife and I had other obligations. As it happened we ended up having a late-ish lunch in a coffee shop where the game was on TV. And I was lucky enough to see the one USA goal.

I must say, though, that as the father of a former goalkeeper I couldn't help feeling really bad for England's goalie. Even someone who doesn't know the game well could see that it was a massive error on what should have been an easy stop. There's an appropriately sportsmanlike comment from the American side here ("You never want to see that for an opposing player").

Still, we earned some respect, since there was a whole half left to play. My daughter tells me that The Daily Show (which I don't like) a few days ago featured some English comedian making fun of the whole idea of an American playing soccer. This is for him:

Tom Waits: Fannin Street

Weekend Music

From his 3-disk collection of out-takes and other previously uncollected stuff, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (this is one of the bawlers):

You'll be lost and never found
You can never turn around

Happily, that's never true in this life; you can choose to turn around right up until the very last breath, though you may still wish you'd never gotten off that train.

Observe: new search tool, over there at the top of the sidebar --->

Try it. It seems to work pretty well. A few nights ago I finally (!) finished bringing ALL the posts from the old blog over here. I still have a lot of non-blog stuff at to bring over, including about two years' worth of Sunday Night Journals written before I started the blog. But if you're looking for an old blog post, you should be able to find it now. Unfortunately the old comments are not available to the search engine.

Click on panhandler's Flickr link on the sidebar for some interesting oil-spill-related photos. And by the way there's a whole set devoted to Emmitt.

First Look at the Poetry of Ruth Pitter

Sunday Night Journal — June 7, 2010

I keep a list of planned topics for this journal, and this has been on the list for a while—for something close to a year, in fact, as I just discovered by looking through my email. It was in June of last year that Dale Nelson sent me a packet of information about Pitter, including a generous sample of her poetry and a copy of the introduction to her Collected Poems. I think this followed a discussion of her work in comments here, but since those comments don’t appear in searches, I can’t easily locate them.

I seem to have a fondness for minor poets, or I should say for minor artists in general. It’s not a deliberate choice on my part. I don’t think I’m doing it out of any sort of desire to be contrary or to go against the grain; if I am, it’s not conscious. I tend to be drawn to the modest, the unassuming, the plain, and also to the off-center and slightly, or more than slightly, strange. And as a rule, those qualities are not characteristic of capital-G Greatness in art.

So if Ruth Pitter is a minor poet—which is not my judgment, but a simple observation of the fact that no one seems to be claiming otherwise—that’s not much of a criticism, and a minor poet may have written some great poems, only not as many as the greater poets.

Pitter is one of those modern poets, of whom there have been more in England than in America, who did not embrace formal Modernism, and chose instead to stick with rhyme and meter. Auden, of course, is another, and he certainly proved that modernism in form was not a requirement for writing verse that speaks to our time. Or is our time still their time at all? I’m not sure, but I suppose it’s enough to say that Auden, for instance, was highly regarded in his lifetime and still is. I think the flight from strict form and fairly straightforward sense was not the inevitable thing that Pound, Eliot, and others tried to make it. I suspect that in general one ought to suspect poets who are also critics of erecting critical principles that justify and praise their own practice, which is probably more determined by what they can do than what they might do if they could choose their own gifts. I love Eliot’s poetry, and rank Four Quartets among my favorite books of any kind and any time, but I do think there was sometimes a self-serving aspect to his early criticism, an attempt to make it seem that the characteristically modernist modes of expression were historically inevitable.

The same sort of thing happened in music, and just as in music there were composers like Samuel Barber who proved by their achievement that hard atonalism was not the inevitable music of the future, so there were poets who proved that one could write very well in traditional forms simply by doing it.

And yet the modernists did have a point. Something had changed in the language, and it was harder in the 20th century to use those techniques effectively. Or perhaps it was simply a change in taste and habits—but then those change the language, too...well, whatever the reasons, and the reciprocal causes and effects, it seems to me to be a fact that the strain of using rhyme and meter is often apparent in the work of those who chose to stay with them.

This is true sometimes of Pitter, and I think more often in her longer and more complex poems, which of course is not surprising. One of her great virtues, it seems to me, is a quick, sharp clarity, and this quality tends to be dissipated in the longer poems. Of the poems I’ve read, I prefer the shorter ones in some fairly simple quatrain form. At their best (well, the best of the two dozen or so poems I’ve read), her poems in this style are as skillfully natural-sounding as those of Wordsworth or Frost.

Her subject matter is both domestic and mystical, sometimes in the same poem. Sometimes the domestic aspect is decidedly earthy and even ribald, as in a comic poem about a lewdly-shaped potato (never explicitly described, but we can guess). It’s the mystical streak that makes her more than mildly interesting to me. It’s a very Christian mysticism, at least implicitly—I add that qualification because she came to Christianity relatively late, when she was well over forty, and I don’t know when most of the poems I’ve been reading were composed. Some are pretty specifically Christian, while others could have been written by one who is on the path, who clearly has the spiritual intuitions and desires which have led so many of us to the faith. Her conversion was heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis, and some of the poems seem to show thought like his. Whether this is influence or just natural affinity I can’t guess without knowing when the poems were written.

The Spring

Where is the spring of my delight,
Now every spring is dry?
There is no blossom in my sight,
No sun is in the sky:

The birds are still and love is past,
And danger whistles shrill,
And life itself now looks aghast
And birth becomes an ill:

And yet the spring of my delight
Leaps up beyond belief,
As if it sprang in very spite—
In very spite of grief:

And yet the secret stream of grace
Flows on, and swells the same,
As if from out another place
Where sorrow has no name.

As much as the best of the poems, I like Pitter’s preface to her Collected Poems. In only a few pages—four, to be exact—she says a great deal that is profound about art, life, and God. I’d really like to quote the whole thing, but here is a sample:

But the summits of poetry are mysteries; they are shiftingly veiled, and those who catch the glimpses see different aspects of the transcendental; but they have seen something, and they come down with the glory lingering on them. Overtones, undertones, echoes, intuitions, deep memories, ancestral fears and immortal longings, are gathered by the spell, raised from the dead, affecting the reader even to tears. Some people cannot pronounce some passages aloud without weeping. The mind has suddenly become a great soundboard, echoing far beyond its accustomed range into its own vast borderlands, where lost paradise and hoped-for heaven have betaken themselves; and we are shaken by a cosmic wind, and know ourselves for creatures of a far greater range than we are commonly aware of.

I think I spend about 10% of my time in the condition she describes, which can be induced by many things other than poetry, and the other 90% trying to keep myself from sliding into the pit in which the 10% appears as hopelessly wishful thinking.

Here are two articles I found online which I’ve only had time to glance at but which look very interesting: one on the friendship between Pitter and Lewis, the other a lengthy review of a biography of Pitter, Hunting the Unicorn.

I expect I’ll be buying the Collected Poems, though I don’t know when I think I’ll have time to read it. And thanks to Dale Nelson for introducing me to her. I think others may have recommended her as well, but, sorry, I don’t remember who.

The Wikipedia biography quotes her description of her Christianity as “Straight prayer-book Anglican, nothing fancy.” Not a very tenable position anymore, I think; if it were I might have remained one.


I'm not sure when the word "issue" became a synonym for "problem." I know I first heard it when I worked for a high-tech company. In meetings with technical support, we would have a list of "issues" to be addressed. I think it was later that I heard it used to describe personal problems, as in "He has some anger issues." And maybe it originated in psychology, I don't know.

Over the years it's gotten on my nerves, because it seems a sort of euphemism: we don't actually have problems that need to be solved, we just have issues that need to be worked out. And if it's not a euphemism it's a pointless substitute for a perfectly good word.

But one place I never expected to hear it is in the Bible. I was shocked to find this in the reading from Acts for Friday May 21: the Roman official Festus says that the Jewish leaders "had some issues with [Paul] about their own religion." This was in Magnificat (the magazine). I'm not sure which translation it is. Surely it hasn't been there for very long?!--I think I would have noticed it before. Anyway, I have issues with it. 

Pekka Streng: Sisältäni portin löysin

Weekend Music

I've been too busy for some weeks now to post one of these; this one has been on my mental list for a while. My friend Anja pointed me to this song by Pekka Streng, a Finnish musician who died in 1975 at the age of 26. The title is something like "I found the gate within me," and although I don't have anything but a semi-intelligible Google automated translation of the lyrics, they seem to relate a mystical experience. Someone set it to a video he made while chasing a rainbow, and to me the combination of the music and the rainbow here says "gate of heaven."

This is not the complete song; if you click through to YouTube, I think it will show you other vids which have the whole song.

Race and Politics Take a New Direction in Alabama

I mentioned in the previous post that I would say more about the Alabama governor's race. You may have seen headlines saying that a black candidate, Representative Artur Davis, was defeated in his run for the Democratic nomination. No doubt casual (i.e. ignorant) observers will see that and think "Well, of course, it's Alabama, and all the white people are racists."

But what happened doesn't fit that picture at all. Davis was defeated by a white man because the black establishment turned against him and actually endorsed his opponent. Yes, let me make that clear: black politicians urged black people to vote against the black candidate and for his white opponent. The reason was that Davis did not toe the ideological line: although he seems in general to be fairly liberal and is friendly with President Obama, he voted against Obamacare. For this he was deemed "not black enough." Abigail Thernstrom analyzes the situation more fully here.

Although I usually vote Republican, there's a good chance I would have voted for Davis in the general election, depending on who the Republican nominee was and what I heard from the candidates over the next few months. I'm sorry I won't have that choice. If it was cool for the nation to have a black president, how much cooler would it be for Alabama to elect a black governor?

Still, overall I think this is a positive development. It does further damage to the idea that race always has the last word in these situations, and it exposes the fact that white and black voting patterns are driven by many factors other than race. The black establishment revealed that it is as much an ideological as a racial force, even though it continued to try to cast the debate in racial terms: '"He rejected black voters to go for whites. He acted more like a Republican than a Democrat," [black political kingpin Joe] Reed said.' (story here)

 I believe that if Davis had won, he would have had significant white support in the general election, though he probably would have lost, because the majority of people in this state vote for the person who best makes the case that he or she is a conservative, whatever that means in this context, and Davis would have appeared more liberal.

Davis got me on his side some months ago with a statement he made some months ago in an interview that made me want to stand up and cheer:

There’s a group of voters who will vote based on race. Some are black, some are white. You add that group together and I don’t think it makes up more than a quarter of the state, which leaves 75 percent black and white we have to make the case to. Are there some black voters that will automatically vote for a black? Yes. Are there some white voters who will automatically vote against a black? No doubt. But, if you add that together – I don’t think it’s a significant block.

(The whole interview is here.) I think this is absolutely right, philosophically, and in a bizarre backward way the opposition of the black establishment to Davis proved it: they would rather vote for a white man who shares their political views than a black man who doesn't. It would be ridiculous to pretend that race and racial hostility aren't a factor in politics. But it's increasingly untenable to believe that they have the last word. And Davis's attitude is just right: recognize the facts, but concentrate on making your case and follow your convictions.

I will now certainly vote for the Republican candidate this fall. The Democrat seems like a classic old-time demagogic Alabama politician; he's promising to legalize gambling and thereby take the state to financial heaven. He'll probably lose, I'm happy to say. And I hope we'll hear more from Congressman Davis.

NB: I'm aware that there's something a little ridiculous about describing as "black" a man who looks like this, but such are the lines drawn by the racial history of the U.S.A. It's downright strange that Vivian Figures gets counted as "black," but there it is...

Hoss, Twinkle, and Strange

Primary elections are being held in Alabama today. I voted for people with the above names: Huey "Hoss" Mack for Baldwin County Sheriff, Twinkle Cavanaugh for Alabama Public Service Commissioner, and Luther Strange for Alabama Attorney General. The funny thing about "Hoss" Mack is that he looks like an accountant. (Non-U.S. or maybe non-Southern readers: "Hoss," a mispronunciation of "horse," is a term of admiration for a big tough guy--but then if you ever watched Bonanza you probably knew that).

I did not, however, vote for the guy with the hat and the horse and the gun. He actually had some interesting proposals but he has no experience and showed some signs, in addition to his commercials, of possibly being a bit nutty.

My wife and I had a long argument over whether or not it would be insane to vote for someone named Twinkle. She was going to vote for someone named Chip instead. 

It tells you a lot about Alabama that every one of these people claim to be conservative and dedicated to saving us from the liberals. It makes me want to vote for a Democrat (which actually I may do in the governor's race this fall--more about that later).

If I ever decide to run for office, I'm planning to call myself Mac "Truck" Horton. And use somebody else's picture in my advertising. Or maybe just a picture of a truck.