Someday, the Last Hick Will Move to Town

And no a moment too soon either: this, another journey of the genre:

My education required a metaphysical moving away, I learned. A professor who could see me struggling through change asked me what scared me about it. I told her that I worried I would lose something, and she reassured me that I would be OK. But she is a brutally honest New Yorker, so she added, “Besides, you can’t unlearn what you now know.” Her words stung.

Having come from Palm Beach and lived in this part of Tennessee for forty years, I can assure Dr. Wilkerson that this place exhibits a complexity that rivals the island’s.  I can also assure her that her beloved trade unions were alive and well in Chattanooga, if she had bothered to come this far down and take a look.  But the elites which engendered the hostility that made this place fertile ground for unions are trying their own burying of the past by going progressive, perhaps for some it will make up for what’s gone before.

The serious sign of initial delusion on her part, however, was this:

Like Dolly Parton’s defenders, I grew up learning the myth that Appalachia was the home of white settlers who weren’t marked by the sin of slavery and thus were not responsible for America’s racism and, conversely, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery in the first place. My ancestors worked hard as farmers. They built grist mills and lived in log cabins. They are the Appalachians of the American imagination — pure Anglo-Saxon. Dolly Parton rehearses this myth, and I imagine she was raised on it. Her Appalachia is pure and white and heroic; her Appalachia is drained of white America’s sins.

If there’s one thing East Tennessee is not, it’s Anglo-Saxon.  Other than the black people and more recent immigrants, it’s mostly Scots-Irish with a healthy dose of the Cherokee, something Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to claim has fallen desperately flat.  Getting past that myth-making and realising that, like the Asians on the other end, the Scots-Irish put the lie to the whole racial paradigm being promoted these days, is liberating, but I’ll bet that Dr. Wilkerson’s moving to town won’t let her see that for what it is.

I’ll be glad when the last hick moves to town, it will be liberating for me.

The War on–and for–Coal is a Waste of Time

Some think we’re on a downturn with coal:

Across Europe and the U.S., the decline in coal output recently has averaged close to 5 percent a year. If the world as a whole can reach 7 percent a year, it would be on track to meet the IPCC’s 2030 target.

The conventional wisdom is that this isn’t possible, as rising demand from emerging economies, led by China and India, overwhelms the switch from fossil fuels in richer countries. That may underestimate the changing economics of energy generation, though.

There is one basic reality that needs to be understood: coal is a mess.  It’s expensive to transport, messy to use (a boiler fired with coal is job security for those who clean it) and a pain to dispose of, as TVA found out the hard way at Harriman a few years back.

As someone who produced steam-driven equipment until the 1990’s, I can show you photo after photo of boilers in action fuelled by coal.  Before World War I most of our equipment, along with most construction equipment, was powered that way.  Homes were heated with coal; the house my great-grandfather and his brothers grew up in disposed of its chimneys and went to coal heating, appropriate for designers and builders of steam boilers and steam powered equipment.

But coal is, in the long run, always edged out by other, easier to transport and burn, fuels, or fuels that aren’t burnt at all.  With the spread of compressed air and hydraulics, steam and coal were banished from the construction site, and the equipment still powered by steam used oil-fired boilers, as we sold the Chinese in the 1980’s.  But the biggest enemy of coal–a fact not acknowledged in the article–has been natural gas, and the fracking boom has pushed coal off the stage faster than just about anything else.   There are of course the renewables, but for massive energy production these are not quite ready for prime time.  There is also nuclear power, but the environmental movement isn’t big enough to admit its mistake to allow it to displace fossil-fuel burning on a large scale, its angst over climate change notwithstanding.

Coal gets heavily used in the early stages of industrialisation because it’s located near the industrialisation, as was the case in the UK, US, Germany and later Russia and China.  But as soon as things move down the road, coal is inevitably displaced, perhaps not at the rate one would like but displaced all the same.

It’s in that context that Barack Obama’s “war on coal”–and Donald Trump’s reversal of same–needs to be seen as a waste of time.  It’s what happens when optics and politics get put in front of reality, and the less of that in our society, the better.

The Thing Brett Kavanaugh Won’t Do

Well, it’s over but the shouting, and there’s lots of that: Brett Kavanaugh has become an Associate Justice on SCOTUS, after one of the sorriest episodes in American government since Watergate.  (And there are many to choose from…)  Conservatives have high hopes for him on the Court, which is why the opposition was so vociferous.  But are those hopes justified?  I think there are reasons to doubt it.

One thing that comes to mind is one of Kavanaugh’s more careerist moves: his prosecutorial deflection of the investigation of Vince Foster’s death towards a suicide conclusion.  That alone should endear him with the Clintons, but their gratitude is no better than Tsao Tsao’s toward Kuan Yu in the Three Kingdoms.

But another is an unmistakable conclusion from the last fracas over his social life: Kavanaugh is a party animal.  That in turn leads one to believe that Kavanaugh will never overturn Roe v. Wade outright.  Why?  Party animals, especially preppy ones, need abortion.  At his level in society, such things are not moral issues to be decided but problems to be fixed.  Abortion may be the final option available, but for such things option it is.

And abortion was the core issue for Kavanaugh’s opponents.  Oh, there are others that stick in their craw, most notably the interpretation of regulations.  But this one is the hill to die on for those who oppose Kavanaugh.  It’s indicative of the strange nature of American politics that those whose policies are geared for a society where the highest goals in life are to get laid, high or drunk oppose him, while those who are trying to “bring America back to God” support him.

But American politics these days is a series of unappetising choices wrapped in high moral rhetoric.  SCOTUS is important, too important really, and that’s one of those enduring problems that we cannot seem to implement a way to fix.  Kavanaugh will not disappoint his tenacious supporters on some issues, but on others (especially those dear to religious conservatives) he will fall short of the expectations of both his supporters and his opponents, and some of us will realise all too late that the acrimony, certainly damaging for the country, was in vain.