My Thoughts: Alabama U.S. Senate Candidates

Luther strangeThe deadline for qualification has passed.  So now we have a field of eleven candidates in the Republican primary.  There is little doubt that Alabama’s next senator will come out of the Republican primary in a state where the Democratic Party is irrelevant in statewide elections.

The special election is to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions who resigned to become U.S. Attorney General.

So for what it’s worth, here is my characterization of the candidates, in alphabetical order:

JAMES BERETTA  –  A Rhode Island native currently practicing osteopathic medicine as a pain management doctor in the Birmingham area.

JOSEPH BREAULT  –  Unknown.  All anyone knows Continue reading

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The Business of Beer

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer.  Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”                       -Dave Barry

Beer is a huge worldwide business.  With Oktoberfest recently celebrated, an event involving copious quantities of beer, I thought it might be an appropriate time to take a look at the business side of the brew.

Beer is the world’s most widely consumed and probably oldest alcoholic beverage; it is the third most popular drink overall, after water and tea.

Interestingly, the Czech Republic is the world’s largest per capita consumer of beer.  Folks there each consume 42 gallons per year of the brew.   In second place – no surprise – is Ireland where those jolly folks annually drink 32 gallons per person. Rounding out the top five counties in consumption are Austria, Germany and Romania.

The United States actually ranks 15th in the world in per capita consumption.  We each quaff an average of 21 gallons of beer per year which is slightly more than the average American person drinks in milk.

Within the U.S. it’s surprising that the top three states in per person consumption of beer are New Hampshire, Montana and North Dakota. What gives with that?  It’s cold as the dickens in those states.  You would think that the hottest states would be the top consumers.  My personal consumption skyrockets in August to help me survive the dreaded month in Alabama.

As you might imagine, the citizens of the Mormon dominated state of Utah consume the least amount of beer.  I’ll give you 10 to 1 odds that Mitt Romney never, ever in his whole life enjoyed a brew (although there is no doubt that it would help him assuage his recent defeat).

The largest beer company in the U.S. by far is Anheuser-Bush, brewers of Budweiser,  which has captured 48 percent of the market.  MillerCoors is in second place with 29 percent of the American market.  The remainder of the market is scattered among smaller brewers with Pabst at three percent of the market and my favorite, Yuengling, garnering one percent market share.

Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. was an American brewing company which operated 12 breweries in the United States and 18 in other countries.  In 2008, Anheuser-Busch was acquired by InBev, a large Belgian and Brazilian brewer for $52 billion. The acquisition created the world’s largest brewer, uniting the maker of Budweiser and Michelob with the producer of Beck’s, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Bass, Labatt and Brahma. The combined companies have yearly sales of more than $36.4 billion.

Not everyone was pleased with the sale of Anheuser-Bush to InBev.  Shortly after the sale, one industry watcher said, “Within six months, InBev turned a family-led company that spared little expense into one that is focused intently on cost-cutting and profit margins, while rethinking the way it sells beer.”

Anyway, if I run into you in the neighborhood beer joint, maybe you could buy me a beer during my next elbow aerobics class!

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William Bruce is a business broker, Accredited Business Intermediary, business appraiser and beer drinker.  He may be reached at WilliamBruceOnline@gmail.com or (251) 626-4949.  His business brokerage website may be viewed at www.WilliamBruce.net.

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What’s With Camden, Alabama? Is There Something in the Water?

Wilcox County Courthouse, Camden, Alabama

As of this month, little Camden, Alabama now claims an incumbent United States Senator, an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alabama, and now the President of the University of Alabama.

Camden is the county seat of rural Wilcox County.  The town’s population consists of  about 2,000 folks.  How has this tiny hamlet produced such a stable of leaders?

As an example of how extraordinary this is, let’s extrapolate.  Mobile, Alabama’s population is 195,000.  If Mobile had produced leaders at the same rate as Camden, the city should have 388 individuals currently serving as college presidents, in state constitutional offices and in the United State Senate and House of Representatives.

But hey, I can count only four in Mobile.  And two of them are originally from Camden!

So what’s the difference?

United States Senator Jeff Sessions

The best known of these Camden, Alabama leaders may be Jeff Sessions.   From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.  Older Alabamians may remember that President Ronald Reagan nominated him to a federal judgeship in 1986, but that appointment was blocked by Sen. Ted Kennedy and his colleagues.  Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabamain 1994. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and easily re-elected in 2002 and 2008.  He is a leader among conservatives in Washington and a strong voice for those principles  in the Senate.

Jo Bonner, Member of Congress

Also serving in Washington is Camden native Jo Bonner.  In 2002, Bonner  ran for the House seat vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Representative Sonny Callahan, whom Bonner had served as Chief of Staff.  He has been re-elected every two years since.  With Republican control of the House of Representatives and with his seniority and winning personality, Bonner has become an influential member of Congress.

Alabama Lt. Governor Kay Ivey

The Lieutenant Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, is also a Camden native.  In her second run for statewide office, Republican Ivey was elected State Treasurer in 2002 by beating Stephen Black, the grandson of former United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.  She was re-elected four years later.  In 2010, Ivey defeated Democratic incumbent Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom, Jr., who was seeking an unprecedented fourth term.

Judy Bonner, President, University of Alabama

And just in the last few days, Camden native Judy Bonner was named President of the University of Alabama by the Board of Trustees of that 30,000 student institution.  Bonner served as interim president from March to July this year after UA’s former president, Robert Witt, was appointed chancellor of the University of Alabama system.  She has held faculty positions at UA, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Ohio State University.  And yes, she’s the older sister of Congressman Jo Bonner, above.

So what is it about Camden that produces these leaders in such disproportionate numbers?  I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that these four individuals had really good parents who were involved their community, who placed a strong emphasis on education and who went the extra mile in raising their kids.  A lot of people in Camden are like that.

And now for the author’s disclaimer: I’m bragging.

You see, I’m also from Wilcox County.  I grew up with these folks.  I went to school with them.  They’re all “good people.”  I’m proud of them!

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Other posts by Will Bruce:

Did Jesse James Practice Medicine in Baldwin County, Alabama?

Were There Welsh Explorers on the Shores of Mobile Bay 300 Years Before Columbus “Discovered” America?

An Adventure into Prehistoric Alabama.

90-Year Old Coppersmith Still Turning Out Lanterns.

Let’s Pass a Law Against August!

The William Bruce Business Discussion (a tad more serious)

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On the “Hot Tamale Trail” Through the Mississippi Delta

Where is the Mississippi Delta, you ask?

“Da’hling, it begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis,” explains a dowager of the Delta, “and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi.”

The Mississippi Delta is the distinctive northwest section of the state that lies along the  Mississippi River. The region has been called the most southern place on earth because of its unique racial, cultural, and economic history.

Technically the area is not a delta but part of an alluvial plain, created

The Mississippi Delta

by regular flooding of the Mississippi River over thousands of years. This region is remarkably flat and contains some of the most fertile soil in the world.  It is one of the most productive cotton-growing areas in America.  Catfish have become another important crop in recent decades.

And what is the “Hot Tamale Trail,” you also ask?

The Southern Foodways Alliance and Viking Range Corporation in cooperation with the state’s tourism department created the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail in an effort to document the history, tradition, and culture of hot tamales in the Delta.

Many say that tamales made their way to the Mississippi Delta in the early twentieth century when migrant laborers were brought in from Mexico to work the cotton harvest. The African Americans who shared the fields easily recognized the basic tamale ingredients (corn meal and pork) and adopted the tamale as their own.

Others maintain that the Delta’s history with tamales goes back to the U.S.-Mexican War one hundred years earlier, when U.S. soldiers from Mississippi traveled to Mexico and brought tamale recipes home with them.

In any event, hot tamale stands and restaurants serving them are frequently encountered throughout the Delta.

My interest in the Hot Tamale Trail started with a restaurant in Fairhope, Alabama which imports hot tamales from the Delta.  Googling “Mississippi Delta Hot Tamales,” I found the trail – and voila – a road trip was born.

Good friends Linda and Fulton Thompson of Jackson, Mississippi

Linda and Fulton Thompson at first stop in Indianola, MS.

immediately bought into the idea, organized the trip and served as tour guides.  Linda and Fulton are as good friends as anyone could hope to have and their families go back many generations in the state’s history.

With perfect October weather on a recent Saturday, we headed out from their home in Jackson for the Delta.  Passing through Yazoo City, the land flattened out and cotton fields stretched seemingly forever.  “We’re in the Delta now,” Linda explained. She’s a native of Yazoo City.

Our first stop was the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretative Center in Indianola.  In addition to cotton, tamales and catfish, the Mississippi Delta is known as the birthplace of the Blues, a musical form that originated in African-American communities of the Delta around the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs and rhymed narrative ballads.

B.B. King, an Indianola native, is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time.  He is often called ‘The King of Blues’.  His museum is very well done and thoroughly enjoyable.  Certainly recommended if you’re anywhere in the area.

After a wonderful lunch and delightful visit with the most hospitable owners at the Crown Restaurant in downtown Indianola, it was off to

A “Wild and Crazy” couple at the First Annual Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville, MS.

Greenville and the “First Annual Hot Tamale Festival.”  Greenville’s mayor recently decreed it the “Hot Tamale Capital of the World” and organized the first festival.

Previously known as the “Queen City of the Delta,” Greenville has fallen on hard times in recent years with the exit of several large employers. But our time there was fun.  And the festival was populated with of lots of friendly Greenvillians, hot tamale booths and craft vendors.

The night meal in Greenville was at Doe’s Eat Place, known throughout the region for its tamales, steaks and spaghetti. I had heard it was “downscale.”

Will Bruce and Linda Thompson at Doe’s Eat Place

That was an understatement.  But in a good way.  A good way in which some “dives” have the best food in town.  You walk through two kitchens to get to the dining room.  The kitchens could not be described as “sparkling.”  But you get the feeling that the friendly wait staff has been there since they dug the Mississippi River.  The restaurant, in fact, has been there just about that long.  The business, in one form or another, has been in Doe Signa’s family for well over a hundred years.

The kitchen at Doe’s Eat Place

The building that now houses the restaurant was first used by Doe’s father as a grocery store, starting in 1903.  After the flood of 1927 which devastated the area, the Signas went into bootlegging to get back on their feet.  After several years, Mr. Signa sold his 40 barrel still for $300.00 and a Model T Ford.  Around 1941 Mrs. Signa received a recipe for hot tamales. She tickered with the recipe and then began selling them. Thus began Doe’s Eat Place in its current incarnation.

And I’m here to tell you, it’s not to be missed.  The tamales are perfectly seasoned and the steaks with fries are to kill for.  Mid meal, someone from the kitchen shouted “The Hot Tamale Queen is here!” It was a visit by royalty!

The Hot Tamale Queen her-own-self, crowned just that morning at the festival, dropped by the restaurant.  At age 86, the first ever  “Hot Tamale Queen” is area native Florence Signa.

Actually as it turns out, and very appropriately, the Queen is part of

Will Bruce with “The Hot Tamale Queen,” Florence Signa. Notice the Queen’s crown of hot tamale corn husks.

the Doe’s restaurant family.  She is the widow of Doe Signa’s brother.  When not attending to the responsibilities of royalty, she is in the restaurant tossing salads and greeting the generations of customers who come for a steak and a hug.  Friendly and gracious, the Queen is also patient, as in “Can I have my picture made with you?”

The next morning it was off to Greenwood, Mississippi.  If Greenville is the “Queen City of the Delta,” then Greenwood could be labeled the “Renaissance City of the Delta.”  It’s a charming place.

At $400 a night, the Alluvian was a bit pricey for our group. The picture was free.

Much of Greenwood’s charm can be attributed to successful businessman and Greenville native, Fred Carl, Jr.   In the 1980s, Carl founded the Viking Range Corporation to manufacture commercial grade kitchen stoves for the residential market.  The local venture found a worlwide market and has been wildly successful.  Fred Carl, with a generous sense of loyalty to his hometown, has used some of the profits to refurbish the city.  The gem of downtown Greenwood now is the Alluvian Hotel, splendidly restored by Carl, and located right across the street from the Viking Cooking School.

Sunday lunch was at the delightful and upscale Crystal Grill, which judging by the crowd’s appearance, certainly must be one of the “in places” in Greenwood.   Tour Director Linda Thompson again displayed her knack for picking the right restaurants.

Concluding our Delta adventure, we pointed the Buick with the rag-tag group strapped in  towards Linda’s hometown, Yazoo City, our last stop.  It was interesting to see that the Mississippi Chemical Company is still in business in Yazoo City after all these years, although under new ownership and a different name.  Linda says she remembers well the country humorist Jerry Clower who took much of his material from incidents around Yazoo City and Mississippi Chemical Company.  She says that in person he was just like he was on stage – loud and funny.

Our time in Yazoo City was capped off by a visit to “The Witch’s

The Witch’s grave in Yazoo City. According to noted Mississippi author, Willie Morris, she burned down the town in 1904.

Grave” in the local cemetery.  According to noted author and Yazoo City native, Willie Morris, who wrote of the incident, the witch broke out of the local jail in 1904 and vengefully burned down the town.  Willie Morris’ grave, incidentally, is only two markers away from the witch’s.

The Mississippi Delta, Willie Morris, The Witch, Greenwood, Indianola’s B.B. King, Greenville, The Hot Tamale Queen and Doe’s Eat Place.

It was an excellent adventure!

Taking some Delta tamales home to friends. Notice Linda’s purple hat, also obtained in the Delta.

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Today is Friday the 13th.

By William Bruce.  Updated Friday, November 13, 2015.

What gives with this superstition?

Is there some evidence to support the fear?  Or is my friend Bubba Jim Beam right when he says, “there ain’t nothin’ to it.”

The fear of Friday the 13th is referred to medically as friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

The earliest known documented reference in English occurs in a 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday 13th.   The author wrote:

“He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that one Friday 13th of November he died.”

However, some historians have suggested the superstition has much earlier origins.

One theory states that it is a modern combination of two older superstitions: that thirteen is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day.

In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness.

Many hotels and office building do not have a 13th floor.  Guests are magically transported in one story from the 12th floor to the 14th.

There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth, that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.

Friday has been considered an unlucky day at least since the 14th century’s The Canterbury Tales.   Many have regarded Friday as an unlucky day to undertake journeys or begin new projects. In fact, Nancy Regan’s astrologer warned her about Fridays.  Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800s.

However, research seems to support the assertion of  my friend who said “there ain’t nothin’ to it.”  A recent study in Holland concluded  that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays.”

So what do patients with friggatriskaidekaphobia have to look forward to for the rest of the year? There are no more such days this year.  The next Friday the 13th is in May of 2016.

So what are the afflicted to do on those dates?  Again, we turn to my friend Bubba Jim Beam who advises “two shots of bourbon with breakfast.”

“It’ll get ’em get through the day.”

“In fact,” he concludes, “it’ll help you get through just about any day.”

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Spicy Pecan and Cheese Ball with Pepper Jelly Recipe. It’s Terrific!

I’ve made this recipe many times and it never fails to get rave reviews.  It’s a great hors d’oeuvre to take to a party, or to serve at your own gathering.  Guaranteed to please.

2 cups sharp shredded cheddar

2 cups chopped pecans

1 bunch chopped green onions

1 cup mayonnaise

1 jar Tabasco pepper jelly, preferably red. (Or 2 small jars)

Mix first four ingredients together, using hands if necessary.  Form into a ball, wrap in Saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to serve, mash onto plate, cover with pepper jelly and surround with sturdy crackers (ones that will tote a load!).

Try this, and let me know how it plays.

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New Report: Average Wage by County in Alabama Includes Real Surprises

The U.S. Department of Commerce just released a report showing the average wage in 2010 by Alabama county.  Statewide in Alabama, the average wage per job was $39,626.

Of the top four metro areas in Alabama, it’s no surprise that Madison County (Huntsville area) was first.  The average wage for the four metro counties is:

Madison County = $51,674

Jefferson County = $46,310

Montgomery County = $41,365

Mobile County = $39,854

But Madison County is not tops in the state.  If I gave you all day, I’ll bet you couldn’t name the top county.

Give up?

Well …, it’s actually Dale County.

Where is Dale County, you ask?

Not many folks know.  It’s in Southeast Alabama.  The county seat is Ozark.  The average wage per job is an amazing $51,905.

And this may be the reason Dale County ranks at the top:  It’s the home of Fort Rucker, the primary training base for Army Aviation.  Those instructor pilots and army student pilots probably draw handsome salaries, and in a sparsely populated county, it significantly bumps up the average wage.

Another surprise is rural Washington County just north of Mobile.  The average wage in that mostly timber oriented county is $50,152.  But area residents will realize the reason is Tyssen-Krupp, the giant German steel manufacturer that picked Washington County, Alabama for their U.S. operations after an exhaustive nationwide location search.

The lowest wage in the state is found in the Black Belt area of Alabama.  Perry County is at the bottom of the list at $27,629 per job.  The county seat is Marion, about 30 miles northwest of Selma.

Second from the bottom is Geneva County, down on the Florida line.

But hey, let’s give Geneva County some credit.  They’re known for producing some of the best tomatoes in Alabama.

Money isn’t everything.

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