Wednesday, June 10, 2009

That Jay Hancock can write up a storm

Unaccustomed as I am to praise of writers’ work — hey, I was a copy editor, a fault-finder; they didn’t pay me a princely sum to coo over the prose — Jay Hancock’s Baltimore Sun column stands out on the arid, featureless plain of business journalism.

Today’s column on why Maryland should not be thought of as a Southern state any longer, linked to legislative leaders’ desire to affiliate with the Eastern rather than the Southern division of a trade group, shows some of his typical touches.

His opening sentence plays with the South’s historic flirtations with secession: Isn't it time Maryland seceded from the South?

He emphasizes his basic contrast by seizing on a telling statistic:

In a South characterized by social conservatism, only 41 percent of Marylanders reported attending weekly church or temple services in a recent Gallup Poll. That was slightly below the national average and far under the upper-50s percentages for the Deep South.

He never passes up a chance to take a shot at unsound policy and witless behavior:

Maryland is the home of smart growth and Columbia, one of the first planned communities. Should Columbia share a regional designation with Houston, home of stupid growth?

Beyond statistics and public policy, there are social conventions and mores to take note of:

Virginia is still reliably Southern, despite analysts who say it's being transformed by yuppies and carpetbaggers in Arlington and McLean. The analysts were saying the same thing two decades ago.

Order an iced tea in Tysons Corner (no smart growth there!) and you'll get it sweetened whether or not you ask for it.

And yet he acknowledges that the separation from the South is far from absolute — he observes that Maryland is still, if vestigially, a tobacco-growing state.

Though I particularly enjoyed today’s effort, his work is regularly gratifying.

When the all-taxes-are-evil crowd started moaning that a drop in the number of millionaires in Maryland must certainly be a result of a recent income tax surcharge, Mr. Hancock pointed out that “[t]hey're bugging out because of Maryland's estate tax, which applies to a bigger portion of a dead person's hoard than the federal estate tax or those in other states.”

It was a delight to watch him play with the political labels — conservative, liberal, socialist, pinko, right-winger — in a column, “Let’s cut spending and raise taxes,” that put forward intelligible and sensible points of view that spread across the entire spectrum.

And if you, like I, have a recent college graduate in the family, share his column, “Advice to grads: Strap yourselves in for the long ride ahead.” It will be more valuable than any number of banal graduation addresses by notables the graduates will cease to remember in a fortnight.


  1. When you order "tea" in the South, it comes iced by default. What does that make Maryland?

  2. I moved to Maryland from the real South 11 years ago. I have been consistently amused and bemused (and, truth be told, occasionally irritated) by the vice-like grip many Marylanders have on identifying themselves as Southern. This state may be south of the Line, but it is not Southern, politically, socially, or in any other way I can see.

    I'm a Southern transplant doing just fine in this Mid-Atlantic soil. I'm here, happily, by choice. But DON'T try to tell me this is the South... I know the South, and this ain't it.

    (Please note: I only use "ain't" for emphasis...)

  3. Certain people moving from the "real south" should get out of the Baltimore-D.C. area a little more often. I moved from southeastern NC a few years ago to Wicomico County. Accents, food (and beverages), politics, suspicion of big government, deep roots in family histories leading back hundreds of years, economy and culture were exactly the same. All the way up the eastern shore, and in 3 counties in the south on the western shore, AND in the mountains. The only place I felt out of place were the suburbs around Washington and the more elite suburbs of Baltimore where all the northern liberals have moved to. It's the exact same situation as in NC around the "triangle", or central and southern Florida, central TN, and Atlanta, GA - simply to a greater extent, due largely to the presence of the federal district. Southerners do themselves a great disservice to dismiss areas overrun by northerners as no longer southern. When it's become as bad in your own home town you will wish you realized how quick a culture can be overrun. Anyone really in doubt should 1. get out of central MD for a little while, and 2. take a trip up to Boston and get a whif of the arrogance you dare associate ANY area of the south with. Then drive back to that Mason-Dixon line when the culture shock hits you within hours of arriving up there.