The Injuns are coming (again)

Attention Conservation Notice: This post is about Alabama politics and the use of American Indian imagery to score political points.

Spotted this billboard the other day in East Lake, Birmingham.

The three men on the right are Alabama Governor Bob Riley, John Tyson (current head of the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling) and David Barber (the first head of the task force). An Indian war bonnet adorns the space above the three mug shots. Continue reading “The Injuns are coming (again)”

Learning from writers

In struggling with the Big Writing Project lately, I’ve been getting unexpected sustenance from writers who are not particularly scholarly. It’s not easy to explain how this has worked. Continue reading “Learning from writers”

The oil spill

A few more vignettes from Alabama and the northern Gulf coast:

Tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon spill appeared on the Dauphin Island shore on Saturday. According to the Mobile Press-Register, “about 100 workers in white hazmat suits, yellow boots and black gloves were picking up samples of black-stained sand near the pier, as beachgoers nearby waded in the water, played football and made sandcastles.” Continue reading “The oil spill”

Shakespeare at the iron mills

We’re going to see a local production of Romeo and Juliet, staged in the fabricating shed at Sloss Furnaces. The former iron mill, active from 1882 to 1971, has become a Birmingham arts venue.

Elizabeth Hunter’s Shakespearean company, Muse of Fire, has been staging annual Shakespeare plays that draw on the city’s dancers, musicians, comedians, and other artists to swell the scene. The results can be quirky — the witches in Macbeth summoned belly-dancing familiars, for instance — but to me it’s part of the American tradition of appropriating and naturalizing Shakespeare as one of us. And I guess the belly dancers are an extension of the dancing and singing that Elizabethan performers did between the acts of a play, more to keep the audience friendly than to advance the plot. Continue reading “Shakespeare at the iron mills”

The enormity of it

I’ve avoided mention of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because there are no words for the enormity of it. The pessimist in me supposes that we can look forward to more of this kind of death-dealing merchant-adventurism in our future. The optimist in me is silent.

The only consequences BP appears likely to suffer are unanticipated expenditures, some nagging civil lawsuits, and a short-term drop in retail sales at the pump.

Compare that to the trashing of the two most vital ecosystems in the northern Gulf (the Mississippi and Alabama river deltas), not to mention the fisheries that thousands of people depend on for a living. Throw in the poisoning of uncounted sea and shore animals, at a time of year when birds converge on the Gulf coast to mate and raise chicks. To top it all, BP’s recklessness will pepper the Gulf’s beaches with nasty tarballs — that’s if we’re very lucky. If we’re unlucky, we’ll get a noisome coat of glistening crude that will sicken and kill for years to come.

We also get to be a laboratory for what happens when you squirt poisonous dispersants into a living sea. Anyone want to guess? Continue reading “The enormity of it”

Health care: Score one against the hyenas

Hyena caricatureN.B. The hyena caricature (right) is from William Belcher’s Address to Humanity, published in 1796. Thanks to Ragged Edge Magazine.

On Monday, the day after passage of the new health reform law, I received a visit from a friend (call him Vic) who’s perpetually broke. He and his wife (Tina) lived with us at one point when their only other alternative was the street. Now they pay $39 a day to stay at a seedy hotel near the Interstate.

They were supposed to have moved on by now, to have a place of their own. Months ago, a man set aside $1,000 for Vic and Tina to pay a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment or rental. But Vic and Tina haven’t found a place they can afford, at least not one that Tina is willing to move in to. Vic won’t even look in Birmingham, where rents are lower, because they want to be in a good school district. Their 11-year-old daughter lives with Tina’s parents, and they want her back.

It hasn’t occurred to them to get a cheap apartment for the short term in order to save money. Saving is not a realistic prospect to them. In their entire adult life — Vic is 48 — they have only experienced two conditions: not having enough, and having just enough. Continue reading “Health care: Score one against the hyenas”

The guns of Winnenden and Geneva

One year ago today, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer shot 15 people to death in two small towns near Stuttgart, Germany. Then he committed suicide. Nine of the slain were students at a school where Kretschmer had graduated a year earlier.

One year and one day ago, Michael McLendon went on a systematic killing spree in two small towns in Alabama. He hunted down his own relatives and their neighbors. He killed eleven before shooting himself to death.

Kretschmer’s killing spree caused a nationwide revulsion in Germany, of a kind that we in the United States have forgotten how to feel. German President Horst Koehler was in Winnenden today to commemorate the dead, and to call for tougher gun laws. Last year the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg doubled the appropriation for school psychologists.

Kretschmer’s father, whose gun collection provided the weapons his son used in the rampage, expressed his regret by voluntarily surrendering his firearms ownership permit. The gesture has not prevented officials from charging him with the equivalent of manslaughter. Continue reading “The guns of Winnenden and Geneva”