“Fucking cornbread, man.”


This is an historic occasion, y’all – the day I wish The New Yorker had been a little more condescending, a little more dismissive, toward the South.

As it is, Reeves Wiedeman’s 2012 profile of Paul Finebaum – titled “King of the South,” without the mercy of an archly placed question mark – is far too generous toward Finebaum and the yahoos he enables on his massively popular radio show.

I’d heard of Finebaum (and heard the show, once, when driving from Montgomery to Mobile) before I married into Alabama, but didn’t start listening to the live stream on a semi-regular basis until the autumn happiness of my household depended on how well the Tide was rolling.  I’ll admit that during this time of year – from last week’s SEC Media Days, until the season itself begins – I listen to Finebaum and to WJOX in Birmingham almost every day, for the simple reason that I’m jonesing for college football before, and more than, most others up here in this Carolina.

Finebaum’s is the most frustrating sports show on the air.  His enormous audience gets him the best guests a college football fan could ask for, and gives him the juice to ask them the pointed questions few other hosts would dare.

In between those, though, a listener has to slog through the ravings of the regular callers who’ve found a sad sort of celebrity through the Finebaum show.  Half the time their rants aren’t even directed toward the Tide or the Tigers, but at another Finebaum regular with whom they’re feuding.  It’s pandering passed off as populism, of the kind we’ve so loved in this country ever since its founding.

Since this New Yorker piece first appeared, Finebaum left WJOX and signed a big contract with ESPN (though his show still airs on JOX in the Birmingham market), which moved him and his show to Charlotte, where ESPNU is based.  Finebaum’s base gave him hell for moving up to ACC country; one of them told him – as a Georgian once told me – that he didn’t trust any state with “North” in the name.

To shore up the base, Finebaum made a few gratuitous jabs at the ACC, jabs that weren’t really answered by Florida State’s beating Auburn for the last BCS Championship.  Finebaum’s new book, co-written with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski and coming out in a couple of weeks, is called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference.


Three other notes:

– Can we require all who mention Harvey Updyke from now on to mention that the looney-tune isn’t even from Alabama?  He was born in Texas, raised in Florida, worked in Louisiana and Texas as an adult.  He’s one of the many Southerners – many Americans – who jumped on the Bear Bryant bandwagon.  Here, let Wright Thompson explain it.

– Can we also make more of the fact that Updyke spent most of his adult life as a law enforcement officer? Why is this not the most remarked-on (and terrifying) plot point in the whole sad story?

– Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News is quoted in the article, summing up well a point many others have made, that the core appeal of football to the South is this: “The North is bigger and stronger and they have more industry, but, if you just take our eleven boys and their eleven boys, we’re gonna whip ’em.”


(Many thanks to my friend Sheryl Monks for posting this poem this morning.)

“Pastoral” by Natasha Trethewey

In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We’re gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by the photographer’s backdrop —
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing, a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I’m offered.
We’re lining up now — Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say “race,” the photographer croons. I’m in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father’s white, I tell them, and rural.
You don’t hate the South? they ask. You don’t hate it?


In case you’ve ever wondered about the exact boundaries of Braves Country:


Happy Opening Day, y’all.

Dan Updates

I need to post this in a hurry. A guy from a tree service is coming this morning to give me an estimate on bringing down a tree in my front yard, a tree mangled by the crew hired by Duke Energy to protect their power lines.

I’d say that I’d be willing to pay higher rates for Duke to bury their lines, except that it seems like that would be a smart investment on their part, one that would save them millions of dollars over time. Right now they’ve got crews out all over my part of the state, trying to restore power to the tens of thousands of customers who lost it during the most recent ice storm.  I don’t begrudge those crews their overtime pay – I’ve paid for it already.

And according to Duke’s CEO, I can look forward to paying for them to clean up the ash ponds they were supposed to clean up years ago.

So far, at least, Duke has said they will pay for cleaning up the Dan, which is getting even dirtier (but not dirtier enough to be another violation, so the river’s got that going for it, I guess).

But I don’t believe them.

The Dan River

The Dan River

The Dan River last spring

The Dan River helped win the American Revolution. This is how we thank it?

On this day, more than 200 years ago, the Dan was the finish line in a race between two armies, a race that determined the course of the War for Independence.

If the Southern Department of the Continental Army, led by Nathanael Greene, crossed the Dan first, they could find rest, recruits, and re-supply in Virginia, which the war had not yet ravaged as it had the Carolinas.

If the British Army in the South, led by General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, caught Greene before he reached the Dan, they could force the weakened Continentals into an unwinnable all-out battle. Cornwallis could end the rebellion in the South, split the infant nation in two, and move north to corner and crush the bulk of the Continental Army under George Washington.

No points for guessing who won the Race to the Dan. On February 14, 1781, the last of Greene’s army crossed the Dan, which was swollen by winter rains. The Continental rear guard disembarked on the north bank as the Redcoat vanguard arrived on the south bank, only to find that every existing boat for miles in either direction was on the far side with the Rebels. Nathanael Greene had made sure of that.

The Race to the Dan was won at Boyd’s Ferry in modern South Boston, Virginia – not far at all from where 82,000 tons of Duke Energy’s coal ash has spilled into the river.

What’s most impressive about Greene’s triumph in the Race to the Dan is how he won. Greene reached the Dan first not by a single flash of genius or inspiring his troops to superhuman effort. He won by being more prepared. His army moved fast because their general was careful.

Gen. Nathanael Greene

Gen. Nathanael Greene

Before Greene even took command of the army in the South, he did more than due diligence. As he crossed the state with his commission, he sent out scouts, studied and commissioned maps, talked to locals. He learned the conditions of the roads, the quality of the soil, the loyalties of even the smallest settlements, and – especially – the nature of North Carolina’s rivers. He learned their width, their depth, their swiftness. He learned where every ford and ferry was. He learned so much that one of his officers later said that Greene knew each one of the rivers in the North Carolina Piedmont as well as someone who had grown up on its banks.

Once the Race to the Dan began – but long before he reached any river – he sent his quartermaster ahead to round up every boat available, along both the Dan and the Yadkin, so that twice during the race, the British could only look helplessly at both their quarry and every means of reaching them.

This kind of care allowed Greene to exhaust the British and stretch their supply lines past the breaking point. This meticulous planning gave Greene the chance to strengthen his Continentals enough to face and cripple the Redcoats at Guilford Courthouse, just weeks after they had crossed the Dan. Greene’s foresight led to Cornwallis marching his bedraggled army north along the coast, until they found themselves stuck, surrounded and surrendered in the little Virginia village of Yorktown.

That kind of care, planning and foresight is also the exact opposite of what Duke Energy has shown so far.

Duke Energy is the largest electric power company in the United States, with more than $100 billion in assets. According to their website, they have 27,775 employees. They claimed to monitor the Dan River site, but they did not know that the pipes underneath were made of corrugated metal, not reinforced concrete. They seem not to have anticipated what every homeowner knows: old pipes break.

Apparently none of their tens of thousands of employees, or their hundreds of billions in assets, could be spared or bothered to remove the coal ash from its retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden. Not after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a warning, not after a host of environmental groups filed suit to make them do so.

Dan River After Spill

The Dan River last week

In place of diligence, Duke Energy gave us complacency. In place of attention, Duke gave us assumption. In place of care, Duke gave us condescension.

In this they have been abetted by a state government that shows eager interest in taking no interest in the doings and dealings of entrenched corporate power, even when the corporation can inflict massive damage on the land, water, air and people of the state itself. The Associated Press reported Sunday that our state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources blocked the various lawsuits against Duke’s pollution by offering “settlements where the nation’s largest electricity provider pays modest fines but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.”

(Update: How bad is it? So bad the Feds have gotten involved.)

Those who like to put on tri-cornered hats and wave their rattlesnake flags often seem to forget that the rallying cry that inspired Greene, Washington, and the soldiers they led was not “No Taxation,” but “No Taxation Without Representation.” The last two words are key.

We should be less worried about governments whose leaders still are, after all, answerable to our votes, than we are about monopolies from whose power we have no reasonable recourse – other than the attentions of a careful government. We should be less worried about the vague specter labelled “government” than about a government that only pays attention to the wishes of privileged corporate interest.

That was what Nathanael Greene and his Continental Army of the South fought for, why they raced Cornwallis to the very river Duke Energy has poisoned. The Patriots of the Revolution did not fight for an absence of government. They fought for the presence of a government that served, not the privileged, but the people.

guilfordcounthouse 1

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

This is the time of year when, without any waning of my love for college football (though, this year, my college football love has waned like a space-age waning machine), I start to see visions and dream dreams:

Tobacco fields east of the fall line, lying fallow, frost-topped, and like to endless out into the dusk; the white concrete of I-40 through RTP, crowded and hurtling on the edges of rush hour; the Uwharries in winter, gnarled as an old man’s knuckles; the smell of cured brightleaf pervading Winston-Salem; the steel and glass of Charlotte’s skyline, lit up triumphal; the climbs and turns of certain roads across the Blue Ridge.

In the air of all these places, holding them together, are exuberant voices, the squeak of rubber soles sprinting and stopping and cutting on hardwood, and the bounce of the ball. All this is what I think of first when you say ‘ACC Basketball,’ even before I remember all the courts where I’ve watched the games, even before I think of Greensboro Coliseum or the LJVM. (And yes, I’m one of those dreaded Big Four snobs.)

So I’m especially honored to be debating the great sportswriter Dan Collins about his new book The ACC Basketball Book of Fame, over on his blog. The idea of me debating ACC basketball with Dan is a bit like the idea of me playing basketball against David Thompson, but I’m having fun doing it.

Please feel free to jump in and share your thoughts on the ACC’s greatest, and be sure to check out Dan’s book.

You’re going to think you know where this Salon article by Alan Levinovitz is going.

You’re going to think you know where the writer is coming from, what he’s going to find, what he’s going to say.

You’re probably going to be wrong.

Spoiler Alert: The trick is to listen.

South Writ Large will have a new issue out before long, so let me thank them again for publishing my short story “The Death of John Gardiner,” from the 2009 collection Parlous Angels:

That Christmas Eve was wet, and just cold enough that ice was a threat.

“Your mother fixed a good dinner,” John Gardiner said as Will Adams drove.

“She did. She usually does.”

Gardiner was silent except for his watery breathing. “I hope she knows how much her mother and I appreciate her,” he eventually said. He needed half a minute to say this, and he coughed when he was finished. When he finished coughing he took a puff on the cigar that he had snuck past his wife.

“I think she does,” Will said. “I know she’s happy to do it. She’s happy to be able to do it.”

John Gardiner nodded. He stared out the window, watching the thin woods and hemmed fields pass by, watching how the brown high grass of the Catawba valley had shrunk in this weather. Will wanted to think he was remembering the abundant woods and fields that filled the valley when he was a boy, and remembering how much he missed that abundance. Will wanted to think he was reflecting on how the woods and fields had receded since then, and reflecting on the part he had played in that. As a boy John Gardiner had helped his father bring trees down, haul them with hooks and chains out of the woods, and saw them into lumber. In his retirement he invested in development, in housing tracts, condos, and shopping centers. From Hickory to the west side of Charlotte he had helped remake the valley. Will wanted to think he was remembering deer hunts and turkey shoots . . .



Once, as a younger man, I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway and found myself sitting behind a bunch of guys about my age and biting through my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.  The game was in a rain delay and I’d started listening to them talk, and sumbitch if they didn’t sound exactly like a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It was wicked awesome.

I know that they only sounded that way to my touristy ears; I know that I couldn’t hear, anymore than the comedians could reproduce, all sorts of shading and phrasing and inflection.

That’s why even the best actors will spend weeks or even months on a movie set, speaking all those lines, in take after take, with a Bad Accent.  They don’t bother, or aren’t able, to learn the little quirks of a locality; they paint only with the broadest brush.

I’ll be honest with you – I almost feel guilty about our two finalists for the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Championship.  Neither one was making a realistic ‘slice-of-life’ movie, by any stretch of the imagination (at least, dear Lord, I hope not). Both clearly were straining for over the top, and got there.  Both accents are so broad they barely fit on the screen.

So here they are, the last drawls standing in the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament:

Oscar-winner Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, versus Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage in Con Air.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, put the bunny back in the box, and place your votes to decide our champion.