Tom Martin

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Confessions of a Bread Junky

... almost invariably the door will open, the person walks in and the nose will go up in the air and this look of bliss comes over their faces.

Few things in life comfort the soul more than freshly baked bread. To learn more about its making, I recently sat down with Bluegrass Baking Company owner (and UnderMain contributor) Jim Betts.  Here, you can read or listen to our conversation – or do both.

Listen to the interview on WEKU’s Eastern Standard

Tom: When and how did you get into this business?

Jim: Well, it started as a hobby. In college, I was part of a food co-op and my first two jobs there were dishwashing and baking bread and I went with baking bread. It’s just it’s anyone who’s baked at home knows it’s a very satisfying and relaxing activity, so it just drew me.

Tom: All that kneading.

Jim: Yes.

Tom: With a “K-N.”

Jim: And eventually with an N. It’s a great stress reliever and it’s one of those things that you can fit into your schedule.

Kneading bread at Bluegrass Baking Co.

Tom: So, when you decided to go into business with this, how did you develop a product line?

Jim: A lot of that was kind of ‘what do we like to do’ and also ‘what does the public like?’ When we first opened someone would walk in and say, “Do you make this?” I said, “No, but funny you should mention that, I was planning on doing it tomorrow.” So, we’ve tried anything at first and then as we got a little bit more successful we started honing our product line.

Tom: I think of the bakery business as being a very early morning endeavor. Is that true? Do you have to get up early in the morning?

Jim: Oh, yes, yes, and we’d stay up late. We basically are baking twenty-four hours. But, yes, if you want fresh goodies at 7:00 o’clock in the morning, someone’s up at 4:00 or 3:00 making those.

Tom: And, are you able to hold it down to a five-day week or is it more than that?

Jim: Well, I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good manager, so I tend to work six to seven days a week.

Tom: I put out a call on Facebook to offer some questions for you and we have one here Meg Tipton Boden. She asks: “What is your favorite bread recipe? What’s your favorite item in your bakery?”

Jim: My favorite bread to make is a baguette. It’s water and flour and yeast and salt. The baguette is as simple as you get and it’s all about technique. And I’d like to say the bread will rat you out. If you do it well, it shines, it glistens. The baguettes crackle when they’re done, they have a beautiful golden hue. And if they don’t work well, it’s pretty obvious – you’re pretty naked with them.

Tom: The tension between making a product look really good, versus tasting good, but not necessarily looking good. If you have to go one way or the other, which way do you go?

Jim: We’ve always skewed towards tasting good. And the great thing about a well-made baked anything is that it looks good, even the rustic ones, even the hand-formed ones. Look at the pie that granny makes. It looks amazing when she’s serving it to you. We’re more of a rustic style bakery as opposed to a French high quality high standard look and so, we tend to skew towards taste.

Tom: Okay. Another friend from Facebook, Debra Alexander, asks: “Is it possible to make a good gluten-free bread?”

Jim: No. You can approximate. You can make something that if you couldn’t eat gluten, you’d be thrilled to have. But there are huge differences.

Tom: What’s the most useful tool in your shop?

Jim: Our oven. We have a big deck oven. If you think about a pizza oven that is massive, that’s what we have. It’s stone-floored, steam-injected, and it allows our breads to be crusty. We bake at 480 degrees and it gives a beautiful heat for breakfast pastries and the like.

Tom: Have you ever encountered any unexpected challenges with owning and operating a bakery?

Jim: When we started the bakery, we just liked playing with breads and we thought, well, this is something we know how to do, let’s open a bakery. Probably the biggest concern with running a bakery is the running of the bakery. We can bake the stuff, but managing all the bits and pieces of what it is to be a business owner was not what I thought I was getting into when I opened the bakery.

Tom: Steve Stone is asking “what is a good bread to start with and work on? Maybe sourdough?”

Jim: I would say sourdough is sort of a graduate level bread just because the sourdough itself is something you need to manage.

It’s very easy to make a starter at home; it just takes a lot of management. Someone says it’s like having a pet, you have to feed it, you have to take it out and exercise it every now and then. I would say a white bread – a yeasted white bread is very easy to make at home. You can make it with just the four ingredients I mentioned, you can also add all kinds of things to it.

Tom: We were talking about kneading earlier; Julie Wilson wants to know how you know when to stop kneading.

Jim: I’m sort of a junkie about bread. Bread is very satisfying, has a great visceral feel. Pick up a loaf of bread, smell it, it just transports you to different places. Kneading, the same way. You knead, you knead, it’s kind of rugged and rough and eventually you’ll get to the point where it starts getting smooth. I say if it kind of feels and looks like a baby’s butt, you’re right in the right department.

Tom: On the business-side of baking, what sorts of market dynamics and trends do you watch?

Jim: The whole “buy local” movement has been something that we’ve been really interested in. We watch what can we do to utilize the locally grown materials around us. We’re working with UK to see if we can grow some bread wheat. Kentucky has more of the pastry low-gluten type of flours, so we’re looking to see if we can work with UK Ag department. And we’re probably a year or two away from being able to grow all the flour that we need for our business here in Lexington.

Other market dynamics: what do the restaurants want? What are people eating? And how does that fit in with what we want to do? We don’t want to just cave to the public demand, we want to maintain the integrity of our business design, but at the same time we want to give people what they want.

Tom: Okay. Another question from Facebook friend, Tanya Tyler. She asks: “what is the optimum temperature for yeast?”

Jim: Ah. Well, yeast likes body temperature between 80 and 100 degrees, it is very happy very active. If you’re not using it, keep it in your ‘fridge, that will keep it retarded, slow it down. So, lower temperature, 70, 80 degrees is good. It takes longer, the flavor results are excellent.

Tom: In your twenty-seven years in the bakery business, do you have a favorite story or experiencey?

Jim: Probably my favorite thing is to watch a new customer walk into the bakery and almost invariably the door will open, the person who walks in and the nose will go up in the air and this look of bliss comes over their faces. They take a sniff because I say if you walk into a bakery and it doesn’t smell good, you should turn around and walk out. Baked goods smell good. So, that’s a daily reminder of how good it is of what we have.

But, every year at the beginning of December, we have a cookie-decorating workshop and we throw the – this is sort of Norman Rockewelly of me, but we throw the bakery open to the kids. We cover our tables with plastic, put milk crates up and whole bunch of cutout shapes and icings and sprinkles. And just watching thirty or forty kids pile around this table, it’s probably – I’m not going to say that. Group of kids piled around the table and sharing their enthusiasm is a wonderful thing and it really makes you – it evokes what I think is the best of baking.

Tom: What is your vision for the future of your business your bakery business?

Jim: Continuing with our artisanal line of goods. Artisanal basically means hand-shaped, hand-worked. It means that we’re taking the extra time to work it by hand. So, we’re going to continue with that and continue playing with local or ancient grains trying to derive a more healthy and flavorful product.

~

Tom Martin is co-publisher/editor of  UnderMain, host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Student Media Adviser at Transylvania University and keyboardist with the Patrick McNeese Band

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Lexington Considers Matthew Shepard

Music has the “capacity to encompass, transform and transcend tragedy. Powerfully cathartic, it leads us from horror and grief to a higher understanding of the human condition, enabling us to endure” – a Washington Post description of Considering Matthew Shepard, an evocative touring choral drama coming to Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium (Mitchell Fine Arts Center)on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

The performance will occur nearly 20 years to the day from the date when Matthew Shepard’s life was taken in an anti-gay hate crime.

Composed by Craig Hella Johnson, the choral and instrumental masterpiece tells Shepard’s story and reverberates with larger questions. “Matt’s story is not unique,” his mother, Judy Shepard, reminds us. “It’s a universal story.” 

Listen to Tom Martin’s conversation with Johnson on WEKU’s Eastern Standard:

Tom Martin is a co-publisher/editor of UnderMain; the producing host of Eastern Standard on WEKU; a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader; and Student Media Advisor at Transylvania University

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Opioids: How did this happen?

Drug overdoses last year took the lives of nearly 72,000 Americans. Two-thirds of these deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved opioids.  It’s a record number – higher than death totals from H.I.V., car crashes or gun deaths.

By now, it goes without saying: the opioid addiction crisis is huge and it’s many-headed hydra.

How did this happen?

It’s the focus of the book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemicby Barry Meier, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated investigative reporter for the New York Times and a 2002 recipient of a George Polk Award for outstanding journalism.

Meier is the keynote speaker at the Howard Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum today (September 24) at the Griffin Gate Marriott in Lexington. The Forum, hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, is focused on Substance Abuse in Kentucky. 

Foundation president and CEO Ben Chandler was invited to interview Meier on the WEKU current affairs program, Eastern Standard. Here is their conversation:

Tom Martin is co-publisher of  UnderMain and the producer and host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard.

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Chats with Chuck: A UK Cafe in Japan?

UnderMain contributing writer Chuck Clenney is off to Japan for a gig teaching English as a second language. But, as they say, “you can do this from anywhere.” And Chuck will be writing about the many things that connect the cultures, people and economies of Kentucky and Japan.

UnderMain’s Tom Martin, host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard, had a chat with Chuck about the UK Wildcats Cafe in Osaka, Japan.

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News Literacy: Five Questions

In this era of Russian troll farms messing with our minds even as live, high-profile humans routinely bend the truth with impunity, how do we keep ourselves accurately informed? How is a person today to know when the news they are consuming is real and when it is contrived? 

In an effort to help news consumers answer those questions, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) recently launched a series of “news literacy” workshops around the city of Louisville, Kentucky. “We’re trying to teach people how to view the news that they receive critically,” said KyCIR’s Kate Howard during a recent guest appearance on WEKU’s current affairs program, Eastern Standard.

“Part of that is looking for and identifying fake news articles that might trick them or have a viewpoint that it’s trying to convey,” Howard said. “And the other part of it just helping people become better consumers, view their news more critically and to figure out for themselves what makes a strong piece of journalism.”

KyCIR’s Kate Howard

KyCIR has developed five questions to help news consumers determine whether or not a news story they’re reading, viewing or hearing is legitimate. Kate Howard shared them with us:

Listen to the entire Eastern Standard “News Literacy” edition. Additional guests include Tom Eblen, Lexington Herald-Leader columnist and president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists; Lewis Lapham, former editor of Harper’s and current editor of Lapham’s Quarterly and its special issue, A History of Fake News; Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Alan Miller, co-founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project; and, Brien Jennings,  Library Media Specialist at Narragansett Elementary School in Rhode Island and author of a new Capstone children’s book series, “All About Media.”

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They “DV8” From the Norm

Rob and Diane Perez are the brains and leading energy behind one of Lexington’s most successful restaurant concepts, Saul Good. You’ll find their signature eateries anchoring a corner of The Square in downtown Lexington, on Alysheba Way in Hamburg Pavilion, and in Fayette Plaza, next to Fayette Mall. Little known about this couple is what they do behind the scenes for their community. That giving spirit now has its own public face in a new eatery located at 867 South Broadway called DV8 Kitchen. Here’s an edited conversation with Rob Perez about this unusual concept.

Tom: What’s your philosophy about business social responsibility?

Rob: I used to think that it was only just to do a good job in the restaurant, but to be honest I think that our responsibility is far greater than that. We try to do whatever we can to help people. And, we don’t have a systemic approach to it, although we do have Tuesdays where we give 25 percent back to charities, nonprofits, and such. But, we try to seek out people who just really need help and we try to help them any way we can.

Tom: You’ve launched a restaurant specifically based on social responsibility. You recent opening of DV8 Kitchen on South Broadway.

Rob: Yeah. DV8 Kitchen was born out of my wife’s thought process. First and foremost, it’s kind of an amalgamation of all of our experiences. I went through rehab when I was 25 and my wife helped me considerably by just loving me and obviously holding me accountable. It really showed us how unbelievable her capacity for support is and her heart. So many of our staff members have not only been addicted to alcohol and drugs, but have died from drugs and alcohol. The internet has provided a tool for employers to check everybody’s background. Someone with an addiction generally has some sort of a background and so many people aren’t willing to give them chances. We came up with the idea that we wanted to employ people that are trying to help themselves. So, we partnered with five different rehab centers that happen to be transitional living facilities that would provide us with employees who are trying to help themselves. They’re in a structured living environment, they get drug tested every single week – that’s a third of our employees.

Tom: It could happen to anybody; economics don’t necessarily play a role in addiction.

Rob: Yeah. Heroin addiction right now is a perfect example of that. It’s affecting moms, dads, people that are white-collar workers. It shows no mercy to any group.

Tom: Now, to many employers, particularly those that have tried to start businesses in Eastern Kentucky, this might sound almost counterintuitive, given their difficulty in finding employees who can pass a periodic drug test; and yet here you are building a business around that.

Rob: Yeah. It is counterintuitive, but what we’re finding is that the people who are trying to help themselves have been more conscientious and more committed to the job. I think partly because if they lose their rights at the transitional living facility, they lose their rights in their employment with us. So, there’s a little bit bigger incentive for someone to do it. But I’d like to think that people are kind of starting from scratch and are trying to figure out how to do it better. They’re in programs that help them deal with past things that have happened to them that might be terrible and they’re really trying to unearth why they became addicted and are trying to deviate from the past. They’re trying to correct their behavior and trying to live with their past in ways that they’ve never done before. It’s really, really inspiring and it’s really impressive to see what they are doing today.

Tom: Is that how you came up with the name of the restaurant? “DV 8”?

Rob: It’s how we came up with the name of the restaurant.

Tom: It’s such a difficult thing to overcome, but yet I wonder if a future employer of one of your present employees would say, ‘now, here’s a person who really fought it and overcame it and that shows me something.’ Do you think that that’s realistic?

Rob: First, we’ve got to get rid of the stigma. Right now people aren’t even giving interviews to people that have been through, you know, trouble. And I think that most people that have gone through the rehab process probably would be less likely to even share it with the future employer. Because of HIPAA (privacy) rules they don’t have to tell them anything.

I wish that we could just be honest and figure out how to get along with the truth.

Tom: Do you think if we were to remove that stigma, we might discover that it’s far more prevalent than we would like to think it is?

Rob: Yeah, it really is. And – and, you know, at DV8 we’re learning something about the way that we think as human beings. It’s surprising that people are shocked at how good our food is and how good the service is and that it’s a great experience because it is a second chance employment opportunity for people. I think people are expecting the food, the service, and the atmosphere to be “less than” because it’s second-chance employment. I think that it’s just how we’re wired as human beings, but it’s quite the opposite for us. Our goal is to try to build pride and self-respect not only in our second-chance people, but all of our employees by being excellent at what we do.

And we believe that our food is 20 percent better than everybody else’s in this category, for a better price, and we give it to them with a smile and great experience to boot.

Tom: When you and Diane came up with this idea, did you take it out into the community and what kind of response did you receive?

Rob: Yeah. This isn’t about Rob and Diane Perez, this is about the people of Lexington and their heart. Diane and I only try to put things in writing and to try to cast a vision and that’s all we really did.

We developed a budget, $400,000 to build this restaurant. And we went to lawyers, general contractors, sign makers, landscapers, and everybody in between and said, ‘hey, look, this is our idea, we’re going to try to do good with it. We’re going to take all of our dividends and give them back to the community in the form of nonprofit donations. And, if you’re willing to come along with us, we’ll pledge to do a good job by a certain community that really needs help.’  And so, what happened was that we took our budget from $400,000 down to $250,000 from just Lexington craftsmen, mechanics, even, you know, tradespeople pitching in. It was just unbelievable what people did. We then turned it into an investment – and by the way, I tell everybody: ‘hey, do you want to make a really bad investment?’ And everybody listened and literally, in less than two months we were fully funded by people from here in Lexington who just said, ‘hey, look, this is a great idea, I want to be part of it.’ Even though only three out of ten restaurants make it past the third year, they signed a paper that said that we’d pay them back their principal within five years.

And it just defies logic. They all know that this is a highly, highly risky investment, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. And it is fully funded and fully generated by the graciousness of the people of Lexington.

Tom: What kind of experience are you having with the customers who come through the door?

Rob: Ah, it’s been really well-received. We are just thrilled. We do breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it’s been really brisk at lunch, it’s been really building at breakfast and we’re working on dinner right now. But, people have been really receptive.

Tom: You just opened DV8 so this may be a question that you don’t even want to think about at the moment, but what’s next for you and Diane? Anything on the drawing boards?

Rob: Saul Good has to be the thing that feeds our family and so, that is going to have to have a lot of attention and love and appreciation bestowed upon the people that are running it right now because both Diane and I are really working at DV8. We have to get DV8 up and running and it’s probably going to take a couple of more months, but I think what we do is we get DV8 on its feet and go love on the people that’s all good and then after that, we’ll see what happens.

But, I think we’re just focused on our family and on the two concepts that we have and God will show us the way somehow or another.

Listen to the full-length conversation with Rob Perez:

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There In The Darkest Times

Writer’s note: This is the story of a brave woman, a misunderstood horse and how each brought courage and happiness to the other. This article is shared with UnderMain and our readers by Alltech in the interest of offering hope and encouragement to the survivors of Intimate Partner Abuse. Be advised: the piece includes material and an image that may be disturbing.

Lisa Murray, executive assistant to Dr. Mark Lyons, global vice president and head of Greater China at Alltech, comes from a long line of horsemen. She grew up in Cincinnati because that’s where her parents could find work. But the family’s hearts were in their Eastern Kentucky hometown of Berea, where her uncle John Murray had a farm.

“When I was 13, they thought I was old enough to handle myself and not be in the way, so I was allowed to go stay with him,” said Lisa. “And he was the man in my life that I looked up to — my dad’s oldest brother out of a family of 12.”

Lisa’s formative years were devoted to riding in field trials and competing in the show horse industry.

She could not have known in those days that she was on a path to a friendship that would endure through the brightest and the darkest moments of her life.

The stars began aligning in 2001 when friends in Michigan had bred a foal, hoping for a winner in breed show performance classes, only to be informed by their trainer that the horse just didn’t have what it takes. Upon hearing this, Dr. Harv and Brenda Carlon thought of Lisa and her daughter.

“Brenda approached me and said, ‘Hey, would you like him for Jeren? Maybe he could be a good 4-H project,’” Lisa recalled.

Weeks later, the double-registered Tennessee Walking and Spotted Saddle Horse Repeat the Beat, aka “Pete,” was on his way south to Lisa, who then lived in the Franklin/Murfreesboro area of Tennessee.

It was a difficult transition for Pete. Lisa had trail riding in mind. He had trouble fitting in.

“He was kind of goofy,” she said. “He had only been in a show barn. He had never had any real-world experience out on a trail. So, his nickname was ‘Unpredictable Pete.’”

A misunderstood horse

It turned out, however, that instead of being a goofy hothead, Pete simply had been misunderstood, and there seemed to be no way to tell the humans in his life.

The breakthrough came as he was turning 4, Lisa recalled. Friends visiting from Germany had taken Pete on a trail ride while she stayed behind to tend to chores. When they returned, they excitedly reported, “Wow! Pete can jump!”

Pete was the first Tennessee Walking Horse ever invited to give a demonstration at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, pictured here with rider, Victoria Gomez.

Lisa was sure they must be talking about her gray Arabian, a former jumper. She thought to herself, “Pete doesn’t know how to jump. He’s a Tennessee Walking Horse. Gaited horses don’t typically jump.”

“I walked outside with them, and they had my whole field set up with jumps,” she said. “They said, ‘He jumps so nice!’”

Until the visitors from Germany pointed it out, no one would have even tried to jump him, she said.

By her own admission, Lisa knew nothing about jumpers. But after consulting other women who knew the ropes, she started taking Pete out to events all around the middle Tennessee region.

“Initially, people would just stand and stare because when you see Pete next to a regular horse, first of all, he’s kind of small — he’s only 15 hands — but he’s this lit-up color that they’re not used to seeing,” she explained.

Pete’s coat resembles that of a blue heeler dog: a roan body with a tail and mane of black and silver and some spots on his belly. He’s officially registered as a Black Roan Sabino.

“But when you see him jump, that is the happiest horse on the planet,” Lisa said. “He’s very ‘ears forward,’ and everybody comments that he has this ‘tail flip’ as he lands from a jump. It’s obvious that he’s so happy.”

Still, she wondered: “Why is this horse doing this? Why does he like it? How is he doing it?

Then she recognized that Pete’s body conformation is such that he is actually built to jump. So, she started calling around to barns, asking for help, and nobody wanted to talk to her because Pete is a Tennessee Walking Horse, a breed that has been under a cloud of controversy over the practice by some in the industry of soring and the use of chains and pads to produce a distinctive show-ring gait.

Pete had not been subjected to the practices, but as a registered Tennessee Walking Horse, he had been tarred with the same brush. And perhaps, as Lisa would later discover, deep down in his DNA was a sensitivity for those who have been abused.

Lisa did eventually find a willing trainer. And, in 2004, the Carlons, thrilled to learn of his new career as a jumper, gifted Pete to her.

She built a team to compete with Pete. It became a collaboration among a group of young riders, and eventually, Pete won competition after competition.

But not at first.

Lost in the translation

Anyone who shares space with an animal — a dog or cat, for example — knows that over time you find a way to communicate: a “lexicon.” Lisa and Pete developed theirs.

“He has great respect for me,” she explained. “There are things that he’ll do for me that he won’t do for anyone else. We’re in synch.”

This became crystal clear one day when Pete was taken to his first horse show and entered in the novice jumper class.

“And he wouldn’t jump anything. He stopped at every jump and just stood there,” Lisa recalled with horror. 

The rider said, “I’m so sorry, I don’t understand. I’m talking to him, and every jump, he’s just: nope.”

Lisa, wracking her brain for an explanation, asked, “What are you saying to him when you’re approaching the jump?”

The rider said, “I’m just saying, ‘Easy, Pete, easy.’”

It turned out that when trail riding, as Lisa and Pete approach a creek crossing or any obstacle, she always says to him, “Easy, Pete. 

“He knows that every time he hears the word ‘easy,’ it means stop, assess the situation and then walk over it,” she said.

The trainer returned Pete to the ring.

“He went double-clear (no time or jumping penalties),” said Lisa. “He was brilliant.”  

Pete, and his rider Ashley Jones, under the training of Dauntless Performance Horses and Chelsea Kolman, in Ocala, Florida, Spring 2017. Photo credit: Darlene Wohlart.

Winner, icon and all around nice guy

Pete’s been a winner. But now, as he retires at 18, he’s also an icon.

In July, he became the official 2017 Breyer Horse model, a limited edition of his plastic likeness selling out at BreyerFest 2017, now in its 28th year at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Pete and some of his former riders were on hand for the event, which drew an estimated crowd of 20,000, many children among them. And Pete likes kids.

“He stood at that gate with his ears completely up, and when a child would come, he would lower himself to the level of the child,” said Lisa. 

Lisa attributes Pete’s fitness and good looks at age 18 to his customized diet of Alltech-owned McCauley’s. feed and the company’s vitamin and mineral supplement, Trinergy®. 

“Pete needs a specific diet, and they answered all of my questions and came up with a fantastic plan for me,” she said.

You’ve got a friend

To fully understand the very special bond between Lisa and Pete, you have to dig a little deeper.  

Lisa’s first marriage to a horse trainer in 1985 was at the tender age of 19. They had a daughter, Jeren. The marriage, like many that begin at such an early age, ended in divorce in 1994.

In the following years, Lisa devoted her energies to her daughter’s riding career, and, in 2003, Jeren, riding her own horse Ali Ali, won her first world championship. She went on to repeat the feat in 2004 and 2005.  

Jeren Guthrie McCluskey with three-time world champion Ali Ali. Photo Credit: Jack Greene

Many years passed before Lisa would again feel comfortable about the commitment of marriage. The day came in 2007 when she married the Nashville-based Dutch sport horse trainer Arnold Warmels.

In 2010, the decision was made to relocate Warmels’ training center, Fryslân Valley Sport Horses, to Lexington.

They had been attracted to the Horse Capital of the World at a time when the city was buzzing with energy. For the first time in its history, the FEI World Equestrian Games, eight world championships in equestrian sport, were being hosted by the United States. And the events were to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park.

It was through the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010 that Lisa became acquainted with the title sponsor, Alltech, and learned that the company was in search of an executive assistant to president and founder Dr. Pearse Lyons’ son, Mark.

She was hired. Her first day on the job was Jan. 3, 2011.

And within the year, Lisa’s life was suddenly and horrifically upended when abuse no one knew she had been enduring at home escalated into violence.

It’s a story that she wants to be told in the hope that it will inspire other battered women to persevere and help drive changes and improvements in domestic violence law and support programming.

What happened to Lisa on the night of Sept. 21, 2011, is summarized in the book “Violence Against Women in Kentucky: A History of U.S. and State Legislative Reform” by Carol E. Jordan, executive director of the University of Kentucky Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women:

When Lisa Murray first met him (Warmels), he was like no man she had ever known. He was European and spoke five languages. He was attentive and thoughtful — always doing little things to impress her. His family was accomplished, creative and professional, and when she was with them she felt like she was part of something important. 

What she didn’t know about him seemed mysterious and attractive.

Three years after they met, they married, and subtle signs began to emerge — so subtle that she recognizes them only in hindsight: his strange behavior when they were with a group of people, his criticisms and rude statements, his tendency to put her down in front of others, his withdrawal of intimacy. Most disturbing was his lack of empathy. When she was thrown from a horse and hospitalized, he showed no concern. When his friend died in an automobile accident, he seemed not to care.

Over time, his verbal abuse grew. He screamed at Lisa, accused her of stealing his belongings and ruining his life. He broke glass objects and threw things at her.

One night, in September of 2011, his verbal and emotional assaults peaked, and Lisa had finally had enough. She turned around and, with all the confidence she could muster, told him never to say those things to her again.

She turned to walk away and never heard him coming. He grabbed her, threw her down, beat her with his fists, and repeatedly slammed her head against the wooden floor until she lost consciousness. When she awoke, still lying on the floor, she knew she had to flee. She mustered her strength and ran to a nearby gas station, where she collapsed. Police were called, and she was taken to the hospital, confused, frightened and injured.

Photo documenting Lisa’s injuries following the attack.

These days, Lisa feels like she can breathe freely again. But even in the silence she revels in, the fear is there. As she says, “I’m always looking over my shoulder.”

Jordan had gotten to know Lisa and regards her as an extraordinary model for other women who have experienced domestic violence. She emphasizes that the Lisa Murray who was knocked unconscious on that awful September night and the Lisa Murray who is the consummate professional are the same person.  

As a testament to the strength of Lisa’s character, she immediately filed for divorce and took her abuser to criminal court, an excruciating ordeal during which she was forced to move three times and totaled her car.

Warmels was convicted and subsequently spent a year in prison in Kentucky, followed by five months in a federal prison.

Since his release, Warmels no longer resides in Kentucky but remains in the U.S.

Lisa has reunited with her daughter, Jeren, who now has two children of her own. They love horses.

Lisa and Pete with grandchildren Madison and Alexis.

After discovering a lack of resources for battered women in Kentucky, Lisa has gone public with her case, appearing on the radio and becoming a member of the Kentucky Survivors Council.

“It’s a platform that I’ve stood strong about,” she said. “I prefer to see myself as a survivor and not a victim.”

She gives enormous credit to Greenhouse17, an intimate partner abuse victims advocacy organization, for helping her through those terrible times.

She is grateful to colleagues at Alltech, including the Lyons family and many of the company’s top executives, for their patience and unwavering support as she navigated troubled waters.

And always there for her has been Pete and his barn companion, Jiltsjke, a big Friesian mare.

“Those two horses are what saw me through that very traumatic, difficult time in my life,” she said. “Every day I could go out to the barn and it was just this smile. He’s silly and goofy. Anybody who’s around him will say, ‘Oh my gosh, you should see what he just did.’ He interacts with people.”

Jiltsjke has since been sold, but Lisa says that Pete “is the one horse that I’ve had in my life that was never for sale. I’ve been offered a lot for Pete, but I will never let him go.”

The brave woman and the misunderstood horse

Pete found happiness by prevailing over a stereotype to reveal his truth: “I’m not a walker, I’m a jumper! 

Repeat the Beat, or “Pete” as Lisa calls him. Photo Credit: Heidi Rockhold

Lisa Murray has found her own truth in the discovery that as bad as things can get, “there is nothing I can’t do. Nothing I can’t achieve.”

“I have a lot of strong, independent women friends, and those horses bring so much to us,” she said. “There were several times when I could’ve shipped Pete off for awhile and said ‘Hey, take care of him, I’m going through something.’ But if I were to sell Pete, I’d be selling my soul. I’m not going to compromise that.”

Editor’s Note: Lisa Murray will join Darlene Thomas of Greenhouse17 and Hunter Hickman of The Nest to discuss “Surviving Intimate Partner Abuse” before the Sept. 7 breakfast of the Lexington Forum. The Forum meets monthly at the Boone Faculty Center on the campus of the University of Kentucky. Click here for more information. 

Arts

ChamberFest Stages Fusion of Jazz+Classical

The 2017 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington celebrates an inventive fusion of classical and jazz. And in the center of it all are two Lexington violin virtuosos – one, Nathan Cole, who animates classical; the other, Zach Brock, who travels the jazz universe.

They will fuse a Cole-led string quartet with Brock’s jazz power trio Triptych to perform a work specifically composed for the occasion by Triptych bassist Matt Ulery. The trio is rounded out by drummer Jon Deitmeyer.

I spent over an hour on the phone with Zach, discussing his role in the festival, the fusion of genres, his recruitment into the Snarky Puppy juggernaut, his most remarkable recent “bucket list” experience, and even his recommendations for anyone thinking about a music tour of New York City.

The story is best told in his own words, placed in context by brief narratives. Included are questions for Zach solicited from Lexington musicians. They include jazz guitarist Clive Pohl, Shangri La Studios owner Duane Lundy, singer-songwriter Patrick McNeese, and Maggie Lander, Lexington’s rising violin star who counts Brock among her musical heroes.

A little background on Zach

Zach Brock grew up in a musical Lexington household – his parents, Dan and Jenny Brock, met as members of the Lexington singers and have been deeply involved in the Lexington music scene. He gives high marks to the music influences of his early education in Montessori school and studies in the Suzuki Method. Graduating from Bryan Station High School in 1992, Zach went on to Northwestern University as a performance violin major and while there, met Erin Harper, the woman who would become his wife and mother of their twin daughters. They made their home in Chicago for 13 years before moving to Brooklyn. After 10 years and the birth of their children they relocated to South Orange, NJ where they currently reside. Erin directed, shot, and edited the Triptych videos. Second camera on the shoot was Lexington photographer Jeff Hoagland.

Our questions for Zach

Zach mentioned that he first became aware of the violin at age four. What brought the instrument to his attention?

View The Violin

Zach was enrolled in a Lexington studio teaching the Suzuki Method, an approach that has stirred controversy. How did it inform his growth as a jazz artist?

Improvisation can be a tightrope act – fraught with the risk of making mistakes. What if it happens during live performance?

Zach toured for four years with the great bassist Stanley Clark, recorded seven solo records, plus four records with the amazing jazz juggernaut Snarky Puppy. The most recent, Culvha Vulcha, won a Grammy this year. Snarky Puppy is a large group of highly talented individuals. Zach was asked to tell us about that experience.

In June Zach had a remarkable “bucket list” experience performing at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York with jazz violin master Jean Luc Ponty. As Zach related the story, he mentioned Eric Aceto, an Ithaca, New York master luthier who has provided instruments and violin pickups for Ponty, Brock and Lexington’s Maggie Lander.

With regard to Nathan Cole’s invitation to perform in the Chamber Music Festival, Duane Lundy asks: “was the concept presented to you or was it up to you?”

Clive Pohl wants to hear about the differences in how Zach prepares for a classical (interpretive) performance versus jazz (improvised, syncopated with a drum set). Zach responded by telling us about Matt Ulery’s piece, Become Giant, which will have its world premiere performance on the festival main stage at the Downtown Arts Center on September 1.

In response to the Patrick McNeese’s interest in his artistic process, Zach talks about the value of being open to constant change.

Maggie Lander is interested in hearing about Zach’s practice routine.

Where in NYC does Zach Brock go in search of great live music?

Chamber Music Festival schedule

topical

Why Not?

What would Lexington’s future look like if the city more deliberately organized our local economy and culture around something deep within our DNA? With substantial building blocks already in place, including the UK College of Agriculture and the global animal nutrition and research organization, Alltech, why not seize an opportunity to become an important center of food technology innovation and collaboration?

How might setting out the welcome mat for emerging digital technologies focused on sustainable farming, environmental stewardship, food safety and feeding a growing world population influence our culture?

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to raise such questions and point out what’s right there, under your nose. David Hunt, a Dubliner who loves Lexington, Kentucky, has done just that.

A former corporate banker, Hunt is a co-founder of Cainthus, a Dublin-based company formed with the purpose of digitizing agriculture. He also serves on the faculty at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.  Our paths crossed recently as I spent several days at this year’s Alltech ONE Ideas Conference in Lexington working with the company to produce a series of podcast interviews with many of the presenters.

One morning over coffee, I heard something that I believe you might find interesting. I heard it from Hunt after mentioning a recent Op-Ed by Alltech Founder and President, Pearse Lyons, suggesting that Lexington become the hub of agricultural technology, research, development, finance, education and more.

It turns out that he couldn’t possibly agree more, and wonders why it hasn’t already happened. Listen to our conversation…

What do you think of this vision? Send your thoughts to tom@under-main.com. Be sure to let me know if we have your permission to share them with the community. We look forward to hearing from you!

topical

No Place Like Home

Nope. Not doin’ it. Hitting 65 at the rate of 10,000 every day, the Baby Boom generation isn’t budging. Excerpted from recent interviews by UnderMain’s Tom Martin, here’s a narration-free stream of thoughts and observations about “aging in place” in Lexington, Kentucky.

Tom gets things started with a question followed by, in order of appearance:

• Financial Planner and CPA Scott Neal 

• Fayette Alliance Executive Director Susan Speckert 

• ITN-Bluegrass Executive Director Laura Dake 

• University of Kentucky Gerontologist Graham Rowles 

(Click on names for full-length interviews)

PS – Click here

Arts

Art and Style Light Up Downtown

The next time you’re in downtown Lexington at night, you’ll find the place beginning to seem a little brighter with many vacant storefronts now illuminated and colorful.

It may not signal a revival of downtown commerce, not yet at least, but Jim Frazier, Chairman of the Downtown Lexington Management District (DLMD), believes the installation of illuminated art in formerly darkened windows will make the city’s core a more attractive and interesting place to be in the evening. He sees it as an important first step on the way to a more interesting, safe and accommodating central core.

“We’ve committed to a first wave of public art,” Frazier said, discussing a new installation by Lexington artist Marjorie Guyon in the main street-facing windows of Festival Market.

Festival Market Night

Photo by Ben Wolff

The DLMD has three focuses: safety, beautification, and marketing. Frazier, who chairs a 15-member board of local business owners, residents, and other downtown stakeholders, said the ultimate goal of the property tax funded organization is to encourage new interest in the area and ultimately increase property values.

A first major step began last September with the appearance on the streets of “ambassadors,” a crew of about eight part-time staff decked out in purple shirts and khaki pants. They’re now on duty day and night picking up cigarette butts, cleaning up litter, helping visitors find their way and dealing with panhandlers.

The next step brought Frazier in contact with Guyon who maintains a downtown studio. Her instructions: “to highlight unrented space in the interest of attracting new business and to help create a vibrant city; to showcase local businesses and create an opportunity for them to present what they do in a public space –  shifting the spirit of a space by bringing unexpected beauty to the darkness.”

Festival Market 1 Blues and Revelation (1)

Photo by Ben Wolff

For this project, Guyon partnered with Betty Spain, proprietor of Bella Rose on the corner of Maxwell and Upper. “When I was putting together the idea for the installation, the presence of human form felt necessary. Bella Rose is known for their dresses and the designers she carries. I thought her collection would be a perfect complement to the artwork.”

Festival Market Camelot and Saffron

Photo by Ben Wolff

“The idea,” Guyon explained, “was to bring beauty and light to a dark and empty space along one of Lexington’s major thoroughfares. With large scale dye sublimation prints on aluminum and dresses from Bella Rose, we’ve created an environment that is not only safe to walk by but illuminates the street creating an opportunity to stop and have an experience.”

Frazier confirmed that the DLMD is looking for additional spaces that could use a brightening touch.

topical

Post Truth or Post Trust?

What a mess we’re in. We seem to have entered a strange new era in which we no longer know who or what to believe. A 2016 presidential campaign in which the victor, Donald Trump, used “people are saying” to such insidious effect, has left us struggling to distinguish between accusation-driven and evidence-based information.

Just how serious is this? Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama:

There is plenty of complicity to go around among purveyors and consumers of information.

NYU journalism professor and press critic Jay Rosen recently took news media to task for accepting false equivalencies as balance. “Instead of defining public service as the battle against evidence-free claims, they will settle for presenting the charge, presenting the defense, and leaving it there, justifying this timid and outworn practice with a ‘both sides’ logic that has nothing to do with truth-telling and everything to do with protecting themselves against criticism in Trump’s America.”

Consumers of news and information can be forgiven for becoming overwhelmed by a constant flood of digitally-conveyed content. But we also have been all too willing to accept an assertion as fact and letting it go at that, too busy or even too lazy to take on some responsibility for discerning the basis of the information shaping our perceptions of our world.

Americans’ trust and confidence in mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level since the Gallup Poll started asking the question in 1972. Now, only about a third of the American population, 32 percent -down eight percentage points from last year- has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution relied upon to inform the public.

The reasons for such pervasive distrust are many, but recent culprits range from the massive failure of mainstream media polling in the recent presidential campaign and a perception that news anchors and reporters have given up on asking tough questions, to the outright mass manufacture of false news stories posing as legitimate. Indeed, the editor of the nation’s second largest newspaper says he will not report Trump lies, even if he lies:

Mr. Baker has since clarified his position. You can read it by clicking here.

“Let’s properly define the problem,” writes Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition. “History and experience tell me it’s not a post-truth era: facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It’s better to call this a post-trust era. In general,” notes Inskeep, “traditional news organizations are more reliable because their business model is to paint the clearest picture of the world that they can manage. But in the post-trust era, we know that any news source can steer you wrong at times, and they’re likely all jumbled together in your news feed anyway.”

Your news feed.

Until only very recently most of us did not fully comprehend, much less possess our own customized “news feed.” And now that most of us do have streams of external information pouring non-stop into our smart devices, we don’t necessarily manage them well, leaving us ever more confused and even misled, exhausted, and bewildered.

What could be more destabilizing to democracy, the cornerstone of which, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson, “rests on the foundation of an educated electorate”?

“The news-savvy consumer is able to distinguish fact from opinion and to discern the hallmarks of evasive language and half-truths. But growing evidence suggests that these skills are becoming rarer,” notes Marcus Banks in an article for American Libraries Magazine.

As this ability to distinguish real from fake information erodes, “nothing less than our capacity for online civic reasoning is at risk,” according to Sam Wineburg, director of the Stanford History Education Group, commenting for Banks’ article.

A November 2016 study by Wineburg’s organization found large majorities of the 7,800 students studied – at times as much as 80 or 90 percent – have trouble judging the credibility of the news they read and are apt to overlook clear evidence of bias in the claims they encounter. These challenges were found to persist from middle school to college – a generation that is by far more computer and internet savvy than older Americans and therefore might be expected to be more adept at sorting out what is real and what is not.

In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Wineberg suggests the ability to determine what is reliable or not reliable has suddenly become the new essential skill in our society.

Conveyed by the speed, reach and impact of social media, fake news has converged in “perfect storm” fashion with decades-long efforts to steadily undermine the legitimacy of professional journalism.

“Fake news is the everyday news in the mainstream media. They just make it up,” Rush Limbaugh recently opined on his radio show. Limbaugh’s comment is rich in irony. (Click here to read my own behind-scenes recollection.) Limbaugh and now even the president-elect have appropriated the term “fake news” and turned it against any press they view as hostile to their agenda.

“In defining ‘fake news’ so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization,” writes Jeremy Peters, a reporter in the NY Times Washington bureau in an article about the influence of rightwing talk show hosts and pundits. “And conservatives,” Peters continued, “seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.”

This delegitimization has been taking place for a long time. Laying this at the feet of American conservatives might serve some as a reason to stop here, writing off this article as just another “attack” by “the liberal media.” Conservative media, however, has for some time dominated the American information landscape, free of counterpoint. Non-partisan, evidence-based journalism has become a casualty.

“If the mainstream American news media are to have any hope of avoiding potentially catastrophic results—both for themselves and for American democracy—they need to change how they report on American politics, and on the ideological apparatchiks they continue to describe, misleadingly, as ‘journalists’,” argues Princeton history professor David Bell in a column for The Nation.

This disintegration of trust is dangerous enough when confusion between fact and fiction pertains to politics and governance. But it is life-threatening when people begin to doubt authoritative reports alerting them to immediate threats to public safety – perhaps the derailment of a freight train resulting in spillage of toxic chemicals; or maybe the imminent approach of a devastating tornado – the latter an example of another convergence: this recent acceleration of general distrust in media occurring on top of years upon years of often wild-eyed “boy-who-cried-wolf” hyperbole by broadcast meteorologists.

A mess, indeed. But the situation is not altogether hopeless,

Back to NPR, All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro, and a follow-up to the interview with Stanford Professor Wineburg that looks at efforts to bring “news literacy” to the forefront in education:

Peter Adams, the News Literacy Project’s senior vice president for educational programs, writes for the website edutopia.org about encountering teacher after teacher over the last five years who can recall two kinds of digital experiences with students.

“The first I think of as digital native moments, when a student uses a piece of technology with almost eerie intuitiveness. As digital natives, today’s teens have grown up with these tools and have assimilated their logic. Young people just seem to understand when to click and drag or copy and paste, and how to move, merge and mix digital elements.

The second I call digital naiveté moments when a student trusts a source of information that is obviously unreliable. Even though they know how easy it is to create and distribute information online, many young people believe — sometimes passionately — the most dubious rumors, tempting hoaxes (including convincingly staged encounters designed to look raw and unplanned) and implausible theories.”

Adams notes that “news literacy is a relatively new field in media studies that focuses on defining and teaching the skills that all citizens need to evaluate the credibility of the information they encounter, and on examining the role that credible information plays in a representative democracy.”

In addition to the News Literacy Project’s interactive “Checkology” program, the Center for News Literacy at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism just launched a six-week online course on distinguishing fake news from reliable information. Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens is described as “a groundbreaking massive open online course (MOOC).

An extensive news literacy curriculum has been developed for the classroom by the American Press Institute.

The Trust Project at Santa Clara University takes advantage of its location in the heart of Silicon Valley “to imagine technology that can bake the evidence of trustworthy reporting — accuracy, transparency, and inclusion –plainly into news practices, tools, and platforms.”

The Trust Project was kickstarted with funding from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark:

Google is contributing financial support to the Trust Project which is also sponsored by the Markkula Foundation.

In Britain, the recent Brexit vote has given rise to so-called “Constructive Journalism.” This more solutions-focused approach to reporting “draws on concepts from positive psychology, moral psychology, and prospective psychology and allows the spotlight to be put on the immense potential for constructive solutions within society,” according to Giselle Green in a guest blog for the Association of Journalism Education in the UK. “Reporters/writers actively look for evidence of what’s working, or what could work,” she writes. “This isn’t about ignoring negative stories or searching for happy, fluffy stories. Or about advocacy journalism. It’s about rigorous reporting of serious issues which are framed to show what people are doing to address problems.”

The concept has been adopted by the New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and Upworthy, among others.

It seems safe to say that until reality itself vanishes, we will never occupy a “Post-Truth” world. The truth is not perception. The truth is verifiable, undisputed fact.

“Trust,” on the other hand notes Northeastern University psychologist David DeSteno, “implies a seeming unknowable — a bet of sorts, if you will. At its base is a delicate problem centered on the balance between two dynamic and often opposing desires: a desire for someone else to meet your needs and his desire to meet his own.”

topical

Limbaugh Sidebar

I was once in a fly-on-the-wall position to monitor the behind-scenes workings of Rush Limbaugh’s then-budding radio talk show when it operated out of a rented corner studio some ten yards from my desk in the newsroom of WABC radio in New York.

A memorable moment, among many, came in 1993 and concerned the suicide of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s White House lawyer, Vince Foster.

Breathlessly citing a financial newsletter that had been faxed to his show moments earlier, Limbaugh broadcast, with no prior effort to verify details, this newsletter’s claim that Foster’s body had been moved from an apartment in Virginia to the suburban park where it was found. Limbaugh went on to add his own dramatic embellishment, claiming that “Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.”

In fact, there was no credible evidence then and there remains none today that Foster’s death was anything but the depression-induced suicide that his family believes it to have been. Five investigations, including those by independent counsels Robert B. Fiske Jr. and Kenneth Starr, concluded that Foster suffered from severe depression that deprived him of sleep, made him unable to work, unable to think clearly, and finally to take his own life.

But the damage had been done. Immediately following Limbaugh’s broadcast, stock and bond prices tumbled with the Dow dropping nearly 23 points, and to this day, unfounded conspiracy theories persist about the nature of Foster’s death.

Arts

Visions Within Visions

aibeiaiaaabdcnpl08k1v8nxccildmnhcmrfcghvdg8qkdawndk3yzdmy2rkyznjmgzjmwuwytg3mgy0nddknzk4ntaxyjjjzwmwavlukvfh8byqtxfe95eifc3ka9efCarleton Thomas Anderson is a 74 year old retired physician interested in photography, design, writing and history. He and his wife Anne call Lexington home. They have two children and two grandchildren.  “My main diversions are horses, bicycling, Nepalese food and reading,” says Anderson. “We watch West Wing every election cycle hoping to rekindle our optimism. We are currently watching it for the fifth time.”

UnderMain was tipped about Anderson’s work in blending photography, art and video by Neil Kesterson, owner of Dynamix Productions in Lexington, the studio where much of the audio you will soon hear was recorded. Kesterson mentioned that Anderson had been engaged in a unique pursuit: discovering the elements of street photography, his genre of choice, in the paintings of certain noted artists.

We were intrigued. Questions followed.

UnderMain: What inspired you to take up street photography?

Anderson: To me the best portraits are of people unaware of the camera. On the street there is a greater chance for such candid shots. Also, the street is a public place where the photographer has a great deal of latitude about what is permitted. I’ve been inspired by street photographers like Saul Leiter and Vivian Maier. What I’ve learned from them over the years is that I have to spend a great deal of time walking to get very few photographs of any value. This is just the nature of the beast.

UnderMain: What’s in your camera bag?

Anderson: A Sony a6000 with Sony 24 mm f1.8

UnderMain: In what ways has the pursuit of an interest in street photography served you?

Anderson: Street photography has definitely made me a better person because I’ve had to decide what photographs of people should be made and what photographs should not be made. I’m talking about ethical choices. Do you take a picture of a homeless person? Do you take a picture of a person in a vulnerable situation? Are you simply taking a photograph to exploit somebody else? The photographs I take must reveal something important about the human condition or something interesting about the built environment of the street (architecturally interesting shots).

Photo by Carlton Thomas Anderson

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

UnderMain: What do you strive for in the images that you capture?

Anderson: Trying to find something interesting to reveal about the human condition is one of the most difficult kinds of photography there is. I’ve learned to be less fixated on what camera I have and what settings I’m using and more attentive to what my eye sees. I want to see something spontaneous, revealing, and visually interesting. This takes a lot of work.

UnderMain: Is there a connection between your interest in street photography and the concept of the videos you have produced about certain artists and their works?

Anderson: During the Great Depression the United States government funded a project where photographers would fan out across the country and photograph the effects the depression was having on people. These photographs are public and available to anyone to use for whatever purpose. They can be obtained from the Library of Congress website. As a result of this easy access I spent a lot of time looking at the photographs and grew to value the work of some of the photographers. To make a video I needed not only the photographs but other material that would make for an interesting story. In the 60s the government funded interviews with some of the depression era photographers and this provided narrative for a video about the photographers work. The three most interesting photographers were Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and John Vachon. For John Vachon I had letters he wrote home from the field to his wife Penny. These letters together with material from interviews provided the basis for his video. In the course of getting permission to use John’s letters I had an opportunity to speak with his daughter, Ann. This added further context. All these government  photographs were taken out in the field and on the street so they fit beautifully with my interest in street photography.

UnderMain: What motivates you to produce these videos?

Anderson: I’m very curious about these photographers I mentioned. Making a video answers a lot of my questions about their lives and gives me insight into their art. Without the video I wouldn’t really have a firm grasp on what they were trying to accomplish. The videos on Édouard Manet and Edward Hopper interested me because they were paint artists who focused a lot of their attention on street images and had interesting lives. In particular the video on Edward Hopper includes a lot of material from letters his wife, Josephine, wrote about their marriage and his art.

UnderMain: What’s the criteria used to select the artists portrayed in the videos?

Anderson: The artists I selected had to have interesting stories to go along with their photographs. Their personal stories have to add to our understanding of their art.

UnderMain: How many videos have you produced?

Thirteen.

UnderMain: Can you briefly describe the process you follow in putting them together?

Anderson: First, I have to write the narrative keeping in mind what photographs or artwork I have available to use. I then use the images over the narrative to tell the story. Next, I select music  appropriate to go along with the finished video. I have used my own voice for many of these. In the Dorothea Lange video my wife, Anne, provided the voice for Dorothea.

Written by Carleton Thomas Anderson - Jo Hopper played by Laurie Genet Preston

However, once I learned about the availability of professional voice talent in Lexington from my friend Neil Kesterson and the services his studio (Dynamix Productions) could provide me I began using professional voices. I’ve never looked back. It will have to be professional voice talent from now on.

UnderMain: Favorites among them?

Anderson: Ben Shahn and Dorothea Lange. The two videos about the paint artists, Edward Hopper and Edward Manet are particular favorites.

UnderMain: Do you plan to continue? If so, what other artists are on your “to do” list?

Anderson: None, right now. I’ve taken time off from photography to write a novel about the Great Depression inspired by my immersion in the photographs from this fascinating era in American History.

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

original works

The Weight of an Instant

One moment, your life is trundling along under its own momentum. In the next millisecond, so much has changed, including your perspective on that big portion of life containing all of the things you take for granted.

It was the mid-afternoon of a warm September Wednesday at the Northside Lexington coffee shop Broomwagon. My UnderMain partner Art Shechet and I had just wrapped up a conversation with Danny Meyer and Sean Anderson about an interesting video essay they have in mind.

Everybody had that “next thing” to get to on their schedule. We all rose from the shop’s community table and said our goodbyes as I headed for the corner door leading to the sidewalk at the intersection of North Limestone and Loudon.

The thing is, there’s a step down, inside the shop, before you reach that door. And for some reason, I didn’t see it.

In the next instant I was transformed from busy, ever-on-the-go and reasonably healthy to immobilized, in excruciating pain and only just beginning to comprehend the extensive disruption brought on by what happened.

I would soon learn that in that blink of a moment, the quadricep tendon in my right leg had snapped. Ruptured. Within a half-hour I was ever-so-gently lifted by a team of Fayette County first responders to a gurney and took my first ambulance ride as a patient.

Let me just say right here that it could’ve been worse. So much worse. This essay is not an appeal for sympathy – many others have been far more grievously injured in spur-of-the-moment events. This is about that instant when so much changed.

I am writing this ten days after that ride. Ten days of discovery. About myself. About my wife Sheila, who shows exceptional skill in providing the most tender and thoughtful care. About the zillion little tasks we do day in and day out that suddenly have become impossible or, at the very least, a significant challenge. About the wreckage that now is my planned schedule for weeks to come. About cabin fever and being an outdoors type who is suddenly and indefinitely confined indoors on what had to be one of the most beautiful weeks of the year. And about the interrupted routine of a cat named Millie who normally has the run of the house weekdays, but now that one of her humans is on hand and under foot, her feline sense of order is wrecked and confused, so she vacillates between studied aloofness and pouncing affection.

Back to early evening of that fateful Wednesday and gingerly shuffling on crutches out of the UK Medical Center emergency room, leg fully braced straight, a throbbing obstacle to the simple act of sliding into the front passenger seat of Sheila’s car.

Once home I managed to scoot on my butt up three flights of stairs to reach the familiar comfort of my own bed. I then bumped my way down those stairs in the same way in the pre-dawn of the following Friday morning to return with Sheila at my side and behind the wheel to the Medical Center for my first-ever surgery under general anesthesia.

The hospital experience is its own story – mostly positive – and I’ll get around to sharing it some day. But this is about the sudden arrival in life of instant, unanticipated, extensive change. Will I fully recover? How long will that take? How does this impact my work? What becomes of those hobbies or passions, like music, that keep me “sane” that are now suddenly and discouragingly difficult or out of reach?

I’m not yet sure of the long term implications of this injury, but I do know that I will eventually recover. So I do not pretend to fully appreciate the routine daily challenges of the permanently disabled. But, because of that Wednesday afternoon moment, my perspective was changed.  

While I’ve always respected the intent of the Americans for Disabilities Act, the legislation never meant more on a personal level than now.

I certainly don’t recommend injury as a way to more fully appreciate what it means to move about in this world somehow permanently physically compromised. But I do hope I can encourage you to take just a moment to think about the turns your life would take were something like this to happen to you or a loved one in your care. And how would you manage it?

One more thing: my friends have been great. Calls. Cards in the mail. Visits, some bearing lunch. All a reminder of how much genuine thoughtfulness really does matter in a time like this.

Above all, if you have your health, make the absolute most of it. Things can and do change remarkably in the blink of an eye.

News, topical

Green’s Guide to Safe Refuge

For African-Americans, travel by car through Lexington and across the USA during the Jim Crow era was a harrowing experience. Some whites, like Lexington’s Joe Duff and his father and brother, welcomed motoring blacks to pull over, rest, refresh and fortify. But the Negro Motorists’ Green Book was a coast-to-coast Godsend. Here is its story.

~ O ~

For much of the nation’s history “the democratic idea of getting out on the open road, finding yourself, heading for distant horizons was only a privilege for white people,” observed Cotton Seiler in Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America.

For traveling Americans who happened to be black, relying on the kindness of strangers was risk with a capital R.

Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Lib. of Cong

Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

The Kentucky Civil Rights Act enacted in 1966 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on race, color, disability, religion, or national origin. But before ’66 and prior to the 1964 passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act, the tripwires of racial segregation in Lexington and most everywhere else in America were strung taut across the country’s landscape.

A Washington Post account of the Green Book notes that “Jim Crow laws across the South mandated that restaurants, hotels, pool halls and parks strictly separate whites and blacks. Lynchings kept blacks in fear of mob violence. And there were  thousands of so-called ‘sundown towns,’ including in northern states like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, which barred blacks after dark, an unofficial rule reinforced by the threat of violence.”

Green Books were sold at Esso service stations, one of the few gas station chains that served African Americans.

At the time, as today’s Baby Boomers were in their formative years, Joe Duff worked for his dad at the family service station on the corner of North Broadway and the newly constructed New Circle Road in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The year was 1954. There was a Jerry’s Restaurant across the street. It was for whites only. But the word was circulating among traveling African-Americans that although Duff’s was not an Esso station, Joe’s father was a kind and accommodating man…

For African-Americans increasingly on the move for work, play and family visits, there was a premium on reliable information about places of refuge like Duff’s Service Station in Lexington, Kentucky – knowing where to and where not to make a rest stop, let road-weary and irritable kids out of the car to stretch their legs, find a decent meal, relieve a bursting bladder or refresh with a good night’s sleep.

Eighteen years earlier, when Joe Duff was only a toddler, Harlem postal employee and civic leader Victor H. Green had heard one too many accounts of humiliation or violence against blacks traveling across their own nation and was inspired to come up with a credible improvement to often fatefully inaccurate word-of-mouth.  

'40 Edition - GreenBook_AOTM

The Negro Motorist Green Book organized by state and city places along the nation’s highways where it was safe and welcoming to make a rest or overnight stop.

An introduction in the 1937 edition states: “The idea of ‘The Green Book’ is to compile facts and information connected with motoring, which the Negro Motorist can use and depend upon. We are appealing to the Motorist and Business places for their whole-hearted cooperation to help us in our endeavor, by contributing ideas, suggestions, travel information and articles of interest.” It concludes with the appeal: “Let’s all get together and make motoring better.”

The guide listed cities and places across the country where black motorists were welcome to make a pit stop, check into a motel for the night and have a meal and even in some places like Lexington, enjoy some live music – if not much else.

KY1

Soon, those who needed to know about “The Green Book,” had become well aware of it. To much of the rest of America, the “Go Guide” as some readers referred to it, was virtually unknown. The guide was in limited supply with no more than 15,000 printed annually.

And despite Green’s efforts to develop a network of correspondents across the country, there were gaps in the information that left travelers passing through places like Lexington continuing to count on the grapevine. Duff’s service station, for example, never appeared in its pages.

In an interview with NPR’s Neal Conan, the late social activist and civil rights leader Julian Bond recalled how his family relied on Green’s handy guide, by then tucked into the glove boxes of many black-owned vehicles from family cars to musician and baseball team tour buses. “It didn’t matter where you went, Jim Crow was everywhere then, and black travelers needed this badly,” he said.

Washington Post staff writer Courtland Milloy began his own account of a family road trip to the American south by recalling fidgeting in the back seat of his father’s Buick Special for the long drive to Grandma’s house. “The trip started with gaiety in the dark hours of the morning, but as the day wears on it becomes a nightmare. It is 1958. I am almost eight years old, quenching my thirst with bladder-busting cold drinks while riding through the hot, dusty South in an unairconditioned car with my two younger sisters.

Mom is seated attentively next to Dad. He is usually all-powerful and in control, but today, for some reason, he is uptight.”

“The Green Book tried to provide a tool to deal with those situations,” noted Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in an interview with the New York Times. “It also allowed families to protect their children, to help them ward off those horrible points at which they might be thrown out or not permitted to sit somewhere. It was both a defensive and a proactive mechanism.”

In the parallel universes of a racially segregated society, what had become a staple to some was virtually unknown to many. Green ceased publication in 1964 with passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act and its prohibition of discrimination in public accommodations. In theory, at least, selective “No Vacancy” had been outlawed. That’s not to suggest that bigotry at the lunch counter or registration desk magically disappeared. It takes quite a long time to bring about change of such magnitude. Vestiges of Jim Crow linger in America to this day.

Writers, artists, academics and the just plain curious have been dusting off Victor Green’s publishing legacy and finding within its pages a nuanced context for how things once were and what informs and influences the perspectives of today.

The reason Courtney Milloy’s father and so many like him steeled themselves when behind the wheel is illuminated in Candacy Taylor’s video, “The Negro Motorist Green Book Project: Documenting Sites of Sanctuary. Taylortravels-while-black” one of America’s most iconic highways, offering an eye-opening reminder of how the road trip, so readily taken for granted by many Americans, was for some fraught with gut-churning dangers of all sorts, mile after mile.

The guide, now reemerging from history’s shadows, is the focus of The Green Book Chronicles. A film crew led by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, author of the children’s book Ruth and the Green Book, and Becky Wible Searles, an animation professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus have interviewed some of Mr. Green’s relatives and have tracked down families who owned sites mentioned in the books or who relied on it for travel suggestions.

Ramsey discussed the Green Book in an interview with public radio’s Rick Steves.

The Green Book is a central fixture in the 2015 film 100 Miles to Lordsburg, set in 1961, the fictional story of Jack and Martha, a young, African-American couple, traveling across the country for a new job opportunity in California.

The Dresser Trunk Project, a traveling exhibition organized in 2007 by William Daryl Williams, then an Associate in the University of Virginia School of Architecture and now director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati, used the Green Book to inform the designs of boxes based on a dresser trunk — the case musicians used to carry their clothing and gear — to tell the stories of African-American artists who traveled along the Southern Crescent train line. The trunks feature stories, photographs, maps, and computer-generated models documenting the clubs, hotels, boarding houses and other places that accommodated black musicians in eleven cities along the Crescent line (currently the Amtrak service connecting New Orleans and New York).

A dresser trunk created by artist Lisa Henry-Benham for the Carver Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia -- later demolished for the expansion of a street -- which was the only hotel listed for black travelers in the "Negro Motorist" Travelers Guide. Photo by Lisa Henry-Benham.

A dresser trunk created by artist Lisa Henry-Benham for the Carver Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia — later demolished for the expansion of a street — which was the only hotel listed for black travelers in the “Negro Motorist” Travelers Guide. Photo by Lisa Henry-Benham.

As the pages of the Green Book indicate, the Lexington of the 1950s didn’t offer much at all to the traveling African-American. Still, there were people like the Duff brothers and their dad, letting it be known that some empathy and accommodation could be found on one corner of North Broadway and New Circle Road.

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Duff, now 82, has had a lot time since those days to reflect and observe the people who pull up to his gas pumps or bring their vehicles to his service bays…

~O~

UnderMain articles by Tom Martin:

Post Truth or Post Trust?

In Search of Another Way

Friendship in Troubling Times

The Wedding Day Kiss

topical

In search of another way

We can’t pass the course on humanity
if we keep failing the lessons
on harmony
and until we unlearn fear and hate.

“I believe that fear is at the root of hate” author and Affrilachian Poets founder Frank X Walker said in explaining the order of the key words in a phrase of his celebrated poem Love Letta to De Worl’.

The phrase “unlearn fear and hate” has become the central theme of educational initiatives unfurling across Lexington, a prelude to an all out effort in service to civility and understanding among neighbors.

Walker’s poem was commissioned by Transylvania University’s prolific artistic collaborators Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova. With the poet’s blessing, they have transformed the phrase into the equation “Unlearn Fear + Hate” and a clarion call for close examination of what makes us fearful of others and how those fears are often expressed in anger, violence, racism and xenophobia.

“It suggests that fear and hate are behaviors we have learned, that they are not our natural state,” Gohde and Todorova state in a synopsis of their initiative. “By extension, it also expresses hope that we can unlearn them. Everyone has something or someone they have learned to fear. We believe that everyone has the capacity to unlearn fear and prejudice. Our artwork gives people an opportunity to consider their fears and to commit to unlearning them. It is based on our belief that we can all benefit from unlearning hatred and, instead, learning to treat others with respect, compassion, and justice.”

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If you have driven or walked along the Upper Street side of the 21c Hotel in downtown Lexington, you may have glimpsed the symbol the artists have designed and created, funded by two LexArts Community Arts Development grants and a Neighborhood Development Grant from the Lexington City Council. The 4-foot wide stainless steel “halo” is attached at eye level to the exterior wall. If it could see, its gaze would be fixed upon the nearby statue of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. 

“In the summer of 2015,” the pair have written of their inspiration and intent, “communities around the country began reconsidering monuments and memorials to the Confederacy as a response to the increasing publicity around acts of racial violence in the United States. In Lexington this conversation centered on the monuments of John C Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan, both located in an iconic downtown space: not only the present location of Saturday’s farmers’ market and numerous public celebrations, but also the former site of a prominent slave market. The debate about these monuments included both people who passionately advocated for the removal/relocation of them and people committed to keeping them in their current location. Like many conversations about religion, the debate surrounding the two Lexington monuments ended without changing the hearts or minds of participants on either side. Thus, the way in which Lexington attempted to address the tensions caused by the monuments was not effective, but it was not unusual either. We are fearful of people we don’t know. We are fearful of difference. We are afraid the cost of change will be the loss of things important to who we are. This fear sometimes causes us to hate the agents of change.”

Two billboard-size prints of photographic portraits of Lexingtonians made with the symbol are to be mounted on the sides of buildings at prominent downtown locations, according to the artists. And a Spanish version reading “borremos el miedo y el odio” was mounted on the Versailles Road side of the Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library on the same day as the 21c installation.

Word reaches the Lyric Theater. A call is placed.

When Ashley Smith heard about the initiative the Lyric Theater Development Director contacted the Transy professors popularly referred to around town as “Kurt ’n Kremena” or simply “K&K” to talk about the $2500 grant she had secured from the Kresge Foundation to fund an Arts and Humanities Festival. “Being familiar with the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ and the work that’s being done by ‘K&K’,  it’s just a perfect opportunity to combine the arts, education and this beautiful initiative,” she said.

On October 11, school buses carrying some 800 students from 11 schools in Lexington’s District One which shares territory with Transylvania will roll to the curb outside the Lyric on 3rd and Elm. “We have a great incentive for schools to participate,” Smith said. “A barrier that we previously realized in putting on various field-trip programs was that schools just didn’t have the transportation stipends for the buses. So we are offering transportation stipends for these mainly Title I schools.”

When the curtain rises, Gohde and Todorova will host a 90-minute, five-act production of music, theatre and poetry mutually developed by the Lyric and Transy students. According to Smith, here’s what the students will experience:

Smith said she hopes students leave the event better prepared “to navigate these very heavy topics and conversations,” equipped with:

Four blocks west of the Lyric, Transylvania University is itself joining the initiative.

Expressing difficult truths through the arts

In November, Transylvania will host students from Lafayette High School and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) in a performance based on the theme. “We all resonate most with ideas that are relevant and incite emotional connection, especially young adults who are heavily influenced by art through social media,” said Lafayette Dean of Students Caryn Huber. “Unlearn Fear + Hate” will allow our students to create a forum at the grassroots level to reach a broad group of diverse students that represent our community, and we hope, these students will carry home to their social circles.”

Under the direction of Cathy Rowland, the students will offer interpretations of the theme through their preferred art forms.

“In preparation for the performance,” Huber said, “the students study the theme (understanding, analyzing, and evaluating), then move to creating, using tools they’ve gained from their courses in creative writing, drama, visual arts, dance, and piano.”

Plans call for the performance at Transy to serve as a springboard for the development of a theme-based educational curriculum with students expressing the imperative to unlearn fear and hate through original works in music composition, art, poetry, dance, monologues, and personal narratives.

The performance, at 7pm on November 30 in Transy’s Haggin Hall, is open to the public.

Halo 3

Theme to drive campus-wide buzz

Throughout the coming fall and winter terms, the Transylvania campus will be abuzz with discussion and thought revolving around the theme “Unlearn Fear + Hate.”

When introduced to Gohde and Todorova, Laura Bryan, Transylvania’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the University, learned of their Unlearn Fear + Hate initiative, and embraced it. “I like the phrase because it is action-oriented. The phrase assumes that we learned fear and hate, and thus, we must be able to unlearn fear and hate. I also like it because it does not restrict the discourse to only one target of hate, but can encompass all targets of fear and hate in our society.”

Dr. Bryan proposed the phrase as a theme for Transy during this academic year. President Seamus Carey and the other cabinet members agreed, signaling a green light to set up programs and activities.  

To ensure consistent programming while raising awareness of the theme, Bryan also asked Jeremy Paden, Director of Creative Intelligence, to use the theme for the university’s series of endowed lectures.

As a result, speakers in all of Transylvania’s 2016-17 endowed lectures in Philosophy, English, Music, Religion, Social Sciences, Business and Economics, Classics, and Theater, as well as its Creative Intelligence Series have been invited to address it in some way.

This is new to the 236 year old institution, according to Paden. “This is the first year where we are trying to provide a theme to our lectures. The intent behind theming is to both provide coherence to campus conversation during the school year and to show how any given theme can be approached from each of the various disciplines. That is, we hope this approach will show the liberal arts moves to find interconnections between disciplines, questions, and problems.”

Paden, an associate professor of Spanish, said while many speakers and performers have committed, work continues to secure additional lecturers.

Committed:

Convocation – Kentucky novelist, music journalist, environmental activist and columnist Silas House is featured speaker.

September 9, 2016 – 3:30pm | Haggin Auditorium

The Smith Concert Series​ ​will host Time for Three, a high-energy string trio of super virtuosos who refer to themselves as a “classically trained garage band.”  They perform music in a wide variety of genres, from rock to Bluegrass, jazz and classical to hip-hop.

Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 7:30 pm​​ | Haggin Auditorium

The Moosenick Lectureship in Judaic Studies will bring in Professor Reuven Firestone, Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judiasm and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, CA.

Dr. Firestone is one of the country’s leading authorities on the relationship of Judaism and Islam and the author of numerous books; including Journeys in Holy Land; Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in Islam; Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims; An Introduction to Islam for Jews; and Who are the Real Chosen People: The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He will present at Transylvania on Tuesday, November 15, and at Ohavay Zion Synagogue on Thursday, November 16, 2016

The Kenan Lecture will feature the poet Claudia Rankine. Her book Citizen: A Lyric, is a collection of lyrical essays or poetic prose​ that bears witness to the experience of everyday encounters with racism. It moves in and through the feelings and thought processes of ​a person trying to understand the experience of these injustices. ​In this way, “​Citizen​”​ names and narrates these experiences. And in reading and listening to the poems, i​n learning from them, our world is enlarged. Rankine’s book was shortlisted for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, the 2015 Hurston/Wright Award in Poetry among many others.

Rankine will deliver the annual Kenan Lecture on February 16, 2017

Paden is continuing to fill the calendar with lectures and performances related to the theme. “Creative Intelligence is collaborating with the Morlan Gallery to bring in a major Affrilachian reading. The reading, which will take place on January 19 at 6 pm in Carrick Theater, is part of an anthology release and an exhibition of Affrilachian visual art,” he said. 

Paden added that he is currently in discussion on dates and times with two professors and poets, one who works with the Latino Immigrant community in Kentucky and who teaches poetry to immigrant and refugee children as a means of owning and telling their own story, and another who teaches in the area of writing and Disability Studies. 

All of the Transylvania events are free and open to the public. The Smith Concert Series and the Kenan Lecture, however, will be ticketed.

We will hear and see much more in the near future about fear and hate and how they might be unlearned. Todorova and Gohde have established project partnerships with the Lexington Public Library, The Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, LexingtonUnited and the NAACP of Lexington Chapter-3097.


Transy students on Bourbon Ave - Video by Chelsey and Susan Olson
topical

Friendship in Troubling Times

Affection, trust, sympathy, empathy, honesty, compassion, altruism, mutual understanding, enjoyment of each other’s company, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment. These are the characteristics of a genuine friendship.   

friendship

Things seem pretty discombobulated these days. A highly-charged and divisive political and cultural atmosphere routinely strains relationships – even among good friends. It can be heartbreaking. And the stress of all this can’t be healthy on both personal and societal levels.

UnderMain encourages friendship and the civility and collaborative spirit it engenders. With that in mind, we’d like to share with you some delectable food for thought on the subject.

First, let’s get real about friendship.

From the NPR program On Point:

Do your friends actually like you? Researchers say half the time, probably not. Listen to a conversation between host Tom Ashbrook and guests about perceptions of friendship. (Listen to On Point weekdays at 10am on 88.9 WEKU)

~0~

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

“Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 ~0~

From Brainpickings

Reclaiming Friendship: A Visual Taxonomy of Platonic Relationships to Counter the Commodification of the Word “Friend”

Click here to explore the concentric circles of human connection through the lens of our ideal and real selves.

~0~

“A true friend stabs you in the front.”

— Oscar Wilde

~0~

From The Huffington Post

Study Shows Most White Americans Don’t Have Close Black Friends

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~0~

From Psychology Today:

The Mixed Bag Buddy [And Other Friendship Conundrums]

Any relationship that holds the power to buoy us can also sink us, or set us adrift. Discover how from the ambiguous to the truly bad, friends come in many shades.

~0~

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow

Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead

Walk beside me… just be my friend”

― Albert Camus

~0~

What are your observations about friendship? Send your thoughts with permission to post to: tom@under-main.com. Watch this space for updates.

topical

McNeese Interviews Scorsone on Evolution of LGBT legal rights in Kentucky

Polar opposites somehow manage a fragile co-existence in Kentucky. It’s a place where the mayor of one of its most dynamic cities is openly gay but sixty miles to the east a county clerk, citing religious ideology, once commanded prime time international attention for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

The history and evolution of LGBT legal rights in Kentucky was a focus of conversation between Patrick McNeese and Fayette Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone on VoiceBox, the weekly interview program McNeese hosts on Lexington Community Radio station WLXU (93.9).

Click here to listen to the entire conversation on Lexington Community Radio.

Arts

The Wedding Day Kiss

“When I met my wife Jennifer in 2011, I might’ve been trying to impress her,” Jay McChord admitted. “I was talking about my military artwork and this book that I had published full of veterans’ stories, and she immediately said, ‘oh I have an amazing picture and story for you.’

McChord, the former Lexington Council Member, was beginning the story of the journey of an eye-catching sketch among his portfolio of military drawings.

“Jennifer showed me a very small picture from 1944 of her grandparents on their wedding day in Western Kentucky.  He’s in uniform and they’re next to this Western Kentucky signpost, kissing.”

As the story goes, according to McChord, following a brief honeymoon with his bride Dale at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Army machine-gunner Kenneth Johnson was sent to the front lines of the horrific German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. Some 75,000 Americans lost their lives on the frigid battlefields of Belgium and Luxembourg. Miraculously, Kenneth Johnson survived what can only be described as hell-on-earth to return to Dale and their home in Providence, Kentucky and a job as an underground coal miner.

Kenneth and Dale Johnson remained together for the next 47 years, raising three children and five grandchildren — Jennifer among them.

In December of 1991, Dale Johnson passed away.

The photo of her grandparents celebrating their marriage would have been destroyed had Jennifer not acted quickly, secretly, while visiting her grieving grandfather. “Jennifer was with her grandfather at his house, going through pictures, as you do before a funeral,” McChord recalled. “And she found this sack of old pictures and letters, obviously from the war. The image that came to be known as The Wedding Kiss happened to be on top. Jennifer asked her grandfather about it and he shared the story behind the photograph. But then he insisted that she return it to the bag. When he wasn’t looking, she instead slipped the picture into her hip pocket because she thought it was a cool picture of her grandparents.”

Two days after Dale Johnson’s funeral, honoring a promise they had made to each other, Kenneth burned that sack full of photos and love letters. “They had a pact that whoever survived the other one would burn those things because it was their private correspondence and they didn’t want their kids or grandkids seeing their love letters,” McChord explained, noting that like so many of his generation Kenneth Johnson was a man of his word. Life was all about duty and commitment — perhaps to a fault in rare moments such as this.

Jennifer framed the photograph and kept it in a curio cabinet where it remained for 20 years until she met Jay McChord, who couldn’t take his eyes off that photograph.

It reminded him of the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt image of a sailor and nurse kissing in New York’s Times Square on August 14, 1945 — “VJ” (Victory over Japan) Day, the day news arrived that the world finally had emerged from the madness of war. 

alfred-eisenstaedt-v-j-day-in-times-square_a-g-5297429-4990704
“But when you know the story behind the Times Square photo, that guy and that gal didn’t know each other; they’re not committed to each other. He just grabbed the first nurse he could find and kissed her. It’s just a moment of jubilation at the end of the war,” McChord noted. “But, I go back and look at Jennifer’s grandparents in this wedding day kiss and I think, ‘Wow! This is in the middle of the war. These are two people who are committed to one another for life, they don’t know if he’s coming back, yet they’re making that commitment right there.’”

The significance and poignancy captured in that photograph inspired McChord. He reached for pencil and sketch pad. This was the result …

In 2014,  while in Washington, D.C. on business, McChord met with a friend on the capitol staff of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr. Eric Landis, an Air Force veteran and one-time Pentagon tour guide, suggested a tour of the sprawling U.S. Defense Department headquarters complex across the Potomac river in Arlington, Virginia.

When tour day arrived, McChord discovered that the 17-miles of corridors within the Pentagon constitute a giant gallery of military art. Mentioning that he has created nearly a dozen pieces of military art and wished that at least one of them could hang in the Pentagon, McChord wondered aloud how that might happen.

Landis went to work on behalf of his friend, looking into the procedure and process for getting art approved for Pentagon display. “We submitted my body of work with the proper documents, and then we heard nothing for months and months,” McChord recalled of the frustration of waiting and wondering. “Eric called me one day and said he had not gotten a response. But a week later he called me back and said ‘well, I guess I spoke too soon. They called and they have accepted one of your pieces, the one of Jennifer’s grandparents, that wedding day kiss picture.’ I thought, wow, of all the ones they could’ve picked, how cool is that?”

In a statement announcing the Pentagon installation of Wedding Day Kiss and explaining its significance, the McChords contrasted the image with the famous Times Square Kiss photo. “The Johnson’s equally iconic, Wedding Day Kiss, on the other hand, was between two people who committed their lives to each other, in the middle of America … in the middle of the War.  Not a celebration for the end of the conflict, but rather, a celebration in the midst of the conflict.  Not with an assurance of better days ahead, but rather with no guarantee of any days ahead. Not in the middle of the world’s most famous intersection, but rather in the middle of a field at an intersection known only by numbers.  Not witnessed by hundreds of unconnected revelers, but witnessed only by the closest of family and friends.  The Wedding Day Kiss image celebrates more than momentary joy and inhibition.  It is a testament to marriage, commitment, sacrifice, honor, dignity and most importantly, love.”

A replica of the original drawing was produced and now hangs among some 15,000 works — images conveying the range of human emotions from horror to tenderness — on permanent display in the Pentagon gallery. Beneath the framed sketch is a plaque bearing the “Wedding Kiss” story and a copy of the original photograph positioned side-by-side with the “Times Square” photo of the kissing sailor and nurse. 

McChord (left),

(Left to right) Jay McChord, Riley McChord (daughter), Davis Bryant (stepson), Jennifer McChord (wife), Ken Johnson (father in-law and son of Kenneth Johnson)

McChord says that the Pentagon Curator appreciated the fact that this piece “spoke to the power of the family, family commitment and those spouses who send their loved ones off to fight and don’t know if they’ll come back.”

About Jay McChord’s venture into military art

McChord’s final piece as a student before graduating from UK in 1991 was a drawing of group of US soldiers in Vietnam.

“The picture is very telling. It’s not a combat picture, at all. They’re just sitting around, in a moment between moving from one place to the next.”

Six years later, while in Kinkos making a copy of the sketch, McChord ran into his former adviser, UK art professor Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval asked to see the sketch and was surprised to find that his former student enjoyed military art. He told McChord that he had real talent and suggested that there might be a lot of interest among veterans and their families in transforming old war photos into drawings.

“What started to happen was people started seeing my work and saying ‘hey I have this special picture of my dad … or of me.’”

Over lunch in downtown Lexington, McChord told me about one of them:

Jay McChord can be reached via email at jaymcchord@gmail.com

~~~

Wedding Day Kiss 2

Jennifer McChord holding the original photograph of her grandparents next to husband Jay’s pencil sketch of the image,

 

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essays

There was this tree…

For me, it was the pungent sweet fragrance of ripe apples. The bees. The creek below. The shady relief from hot summer sun. The music. The people strolling by. Being up high.

Have you ever in an instant been transported to something from your childhood that you had long since forgotten, but now that you are reminded, it’s the first time you ever thought of it as such a bedrock of your early youth, a source of wonder, fun, solace and even mischief?

You never know what you’re going to hear when you leave your car radio on so that it fires up when you turn the ignition key. On this day it was the daily and superb public radio talk show “On Point” on WEKU and the comment of a guest, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren: “So many people have a special tree from their childhood; some tree that they remember being in their lives.”

Boom!

There I was as a boy, reclining in a crook of the branches of one of the apple trees along the creek next to our home in Morehead, Kentucky.

There were other apple trees nearby. But this tree was “The One:” its lower branches close enough to the ground to welcome a climb into an aerie scented by apple blossoms and buzzing with bees too focused on the gathering of pollen to be concerned with me.

I didn’t think of it this way back then, but realize now that I loved that tree in the way that I loved my home. It accommodated. It sheltered. There was an abundance of food all around. It was “my place.”

And from my perch, I could people-watch the college students rushing to and from classes on the campus of Morehead State University. Music came from just across the street, drifting through the windows of the then un-air conditioned Baird Music Hall, opened to bring relief from the summer heat. It was a place where friends knew they could find me. It was home base for kick-the-can.

And, it was a rocket launcher.

My dad had come home from work one day with a huge rubber band, saved from office packaging, just for me. He thought I would make something of it. My mom was horrified – quickly realizing just what I would make of it. She was right. Threaded through its looped ends stretched around two branches forming a fork, and loaded with an apple plucked from nearby, that innocent office supply paired with the strong branches of my apple tree accomplice was transformed into a most excellent and quite powerful sling-shot.

You don’t think about the big picture when you’re 10 years old. You live in the moment. So, I could not have foreseen that my apple launcher would send its payload sailing all the way across University Boulevard, coming down with a splat in the middle of a tennis court…that was in use at the time.

Fortunately, apple trees also provide good cover.

Now that I’ve been reminded, I really miss that tree. It’s gone now. “They put up a parking lot.” You know how that goes.

The “On Point” conversation that inspired this essay was about life, love and coming of age as a scientist. I’m sure they had no idea they would inspire the reminiscence of a budding, apple-launching tree-hugger.

News, topical

Is a picture any longer worth a thousand words?

(Illustration: Venice multi exposure by Stephen Wilkes)

With apologies to the written word, there may be no more powerfully influential medium of communication concerning global affairs than photojournalism. “Seeing is believing,” right? But what happens when we can no longer completely trust the veracity of the image before us?

Just as there’s a time to stop talking about girls and boys and to talk instead about women and men so it is with photography; something has changed so radically that we need to talk about it differently, think of it differently and use it differently. Failure to recognize the huge changes underway is to risk isolating ourselves in an historical backwater of communication, using an interesting but quaint visual language removed from the cultural mainstream.

– “The Next Revolution in Photography is Coming” by Stephen Mayes. Please read on.

Arts, Environment, Photography

Sometimes we need only look up

Images from the skies over Central Kentucky on the morning of Monday, August 3, 2015. According to Weather.com, these are “undulatus asperatus” clouds, Latin for “agitated waves.” Under certain conditions they can precede a thunderstorm just after a storm’s “gust front” has blown through the area.

Photos culled from Facebook posts and our thanks to those who took a moment to capture these surreal images.

By Wyn Morris

By Wyn Morris

By Jo Ann McDonald Rice

By Jo Ann McDonald Rice

By Brian Powers

By Brian Powers

By Johannah McKinney Cheek

By Johannah McKinney Cheek

By Kathy Bickers

By Kathy Bickers

Arts, Environment

Rupp Can Mean A (Different Thing)

ratposters2book-image

Public artist Christy Rupp, that is, burst onto the New York art scene with “Rat Patrol” during the sanitation strike of 1979 and after an unidentified woman was attacked by a pack of rats in downtown Manhattan. Rupp — who describes herself an ecoartist — envisioned the work as a public service, a visual reminder that the streets are a delicate ecosystem. The story continues from Hyperallergic.

Uncategorized

Sing them ‘Ol Courthouse Blues (please)

An UnderMain InvitatIon ~

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) - Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) – Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

UPDATE: View a pro-con discussion on KET’s Kentucky Tonight about “LIFT, Kentucky” – the proposed Local Option Sales Tax now before the Kentucky General Assembly.

For quite some time – years – there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the old Fayette County courthouse. What we’ve heard has varied on the theme that it’s a real shame to have this big, shuttered and unoccupied edifice brooding in silence as so much energy goes on all around in a recently revitalized downtown Lexington.

It has issues. Big ones. Asbestos. Mold. There’s that space created in its once open dome to house HVAC equipment. And over the years, there have been many other suffocating renovations of convenience. Mayor Gray said in his State of the City speech that “In 2014 the city shored up the critical needs of the foundation, this year we will be taking steps to save the building.”

It’s a good way to start a new year. Something new, potentially exciting and actually achievable for us to consider. The question is, what?

There’s a ton of history concentrated in that spot, smack dab in the center of our city. Important history. A lot of it is pretty awful. And there may some fairly painful and spirited debate over whether that history should be formally recognized, the legacies of slave auction victims remembered, versus whether the time has come to try to move beyond that ugly passage in Lexington’s story. Maybe some of both.

But one thing is not debatable: with a 21c Hotel taking shape directly to its east while all sorts of eateries and bars thrive to its north and west, the Old Courthouse must either be fixed up and given new purpose, or it should be torn down to make way for something artfully designed, appropriate to the site and useful. Something we can all be proud of.

Leaving it indefinitely as-is cannot be an appropriate option for a city that is seeing so much positive change.

Posting in a thread on Facebook, Foster Ockerman, Jr., President of the Courthouse Square Foundation, said results are expected soon of a study into what needs to be done to restore the building. Ockerman reminds us that the UrbanCounty Council last November approved funding to move the results of this study to the schematic drawings stage. And he notes that a small group, chaired by longtime Lexington real estate sales and leasing professional Frank Mattone and assisted by Lexington Downtown Development Authority President and COO Jeff Fugate, has been looking at potential uses for over a year.

With Mayor Gray setting the tone by placing the building’s future high on his agenda, UnderMain would like to host a community conversation that revolves around the questions: should the old courthouse be renovated? If so, what should be its purpose? How much would that cost? Or should it be demolished? If so, what should take its place? And at what cost to taxpayers?

Breathing new life into an old structure is an expensive matter. If you favor the building’s renovation, would you also support financing the cost with a penny sales tax (meaning, you would favor the passage by the 2015 General Assembly a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow us to vote on whether to permit Kentucky’s cities and towns to ask their voting citizens whether or not they would approve such a tax for such a purpose)?

Also up for consideration in Frankfort during the ’15 legisative session is something called “P3” – it stands for Public, Private Partnerships. While P3s have advantages and disadvantages, the concept does offer another way to pay for an old courthouse makeover.

So please join our Facebook discussion. We’re sure there are many more questions inspired by the prospect of doing something – one way or another – about the old Fayette County Courthouse. If you have them, please feel welcome to raise them. If you have ideas about what the building might become, let’s hear them.

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music

Art’s Plea: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

The Kentucky creative economy – wait: there is such a thing? A whole economy, that is? Yes and it’s, “alive and well,” as they say, but also largely misunderstood. And that’s been researched, quantified and all done up in a nice package presented by the Kentucky Arts Council.

UnderMain thought you might like to peruse this portrait of the arts production happening all around you, every day, here in the Commonwealth.

Dive in!

All, Arts, Environment, Music

LexArts Receives NEA Grant for “Livestream”

 (From LexArts press release)

Lexington, KY – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced yesterday that LexArts is one of 919 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. LexArts is recommended for a $40,000 grant to support “Livestream,” a transmedia public art installation commissioned by LexArts and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works as part of the EcoART program.

“Livestream” will combine art, science, and technology to raise environmental awareness by engaging individuals in the sustainment of one of our most valuable resources: groundwater. The EcoART program was created to educate the public on environmental issues through artistic creation.

Selected through an artist call, the artistic team known as Public Works Collaborative consists of founder and designer, Kiersten Nash; musician, Ben Sollee; engineer, Sean Montgomery; public artist, Bland Hoke; and educator, Dan Marwit. The project is in partnership with the Kentucky Geological Survey and has the support of LexArts and the Dan Marwit.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “I’m pleased to be able to share the news of our support through Art Works including the award to LexArts. The arts foster value, connection, creativity and innovation for the American people and these recommended grants demonstrate those attributes and affirm that the arts are part of our everyday lives.”

“‘Livestream’ will engage people in a way few public art projects do. Not only through sound as well as sight, but also experiencing the world around and specifically under us, this project will make an impact in a very immediate way,” continued Ellen A. Plummer, LexArts President & CEO. “The collaboration among these artists, musicians and scientists is extraordinary. We are grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts and our LFUCG partners for helping LexArts bring this complex work to life.”

Art Works grants support the creation of art, public engagement with art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancement of the livability of communities through the arts. The NEA received 1,474 eligible applications under the Art Works category, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 919 are recommended for grants for a total of $26.6 million. For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at arts.gov. Follow the conversation about this and other NEA-funded projects on Twitter at #NEAFall2014.

All, Environment, News, Politics, Uncategorized

Watch what we wish for?

(Credit - Natural Resources Defense Council)

(Credit – Natural Resources Defense Council)

A nod to Randall Stevens for a provocative Facebook posting about contemporary progressive urbanism – “Smart Growth” – posing the question, “What can Lexington learn from this?”

Tiptoe gingerly through the ideologically argumentative minefield and you might recall some troubling cautionary tales taken from such otherwise “cool” places as Boulder and Austin.

Please read and offer your thoughts about our own aspirations for Lexington, Kentucky.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

Thinking outside of the chamber

Richard Young was in the thick of it, hunched over a cellphone at the bar in Natasha’s. The news was challenging.

With only three weeks until “showtime,” the director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington had suddenly found himself not only in search of an essential Steinway Concert Grand piano, but after getting word of complications with the original plan, also attempting to find accommodations for the festival’s five-member Ensemble-in-Residence

As it turns out, each dilemma has been resolved. More on that a bit further down the page.

But these crises did serve to remind that the business of organizing and overseeing a ten-day music festival not of the rock, folk or country variety, but instead focused on chamber music in 2014 is not for the faint at heart and certainly requires a tolerance for change.

“This is about something that is quite old,” Young observed. “I mean – it’s about chamber music. While it can be and often is a very progressive art form, most people know it as Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven quartets, that sort of thing.”

Now in its eighth year, Young’s fourth as director, the festival gets underway on the evening of Thursday, August 14 with a free public concert by WindSync – the aforementioned Ensemble-in-Residence – with beer and barbecue on the lawn of Loudon House, home of the Lexington Art League.

And you can read plenty into the selection of this particular group and that particular opening night format. The message? You don’t necessarily have to be a classical music aficionado to find something interesting, perhaps amazing in the performances slated for locations in and around Lexington between the 14th and 24th of August.

While the young, energetic Houston-based ensemble will offer its own performances in various more casual settings around town, the group also will integrate with the festival’s traditional concerts in the formal setting of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion.

“After we brought Richard Young aboard as festival director, we had numerous board discussions about bringing our product—chamber music—to the community in a casual manner. And we did so with the enthusiastic endorsement of our board,” said Charles Stone, founding chairman of the festival board. “What sets our festival apart in our mind is our cutting edge presentation and programming. And what we look to do soon after we finish one year’s series is imagine how we can make it newer, bolder the next time,” Stone continued, describing a governing body willing to take risks by supporting new approaches to presenting chamber music to a Lexington audience “We are comfortable to embrace a room full of new ideas.”

Under the direction of Young, a 2011 graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (Double bass), programming has steadily progressed and expanded.

In 2012, two years into his tenure as director, he experimented with staging surprise chamber music performances around the city several weeks prior to the opening of the festival.

These “pop-up” performances are now a staple. And there is method in this madness.

“Chamber music is such a niche thing. You like it, you hate it, or you don’t know about it. I think one of the main reasons it doesn’t have a broad audience is its exposure,” Young said. “You say ‘classical music’ and people think of either opera or symphonies. I don’t think a lot of people think of chamber music because it just doesn’t have a lot of exposure. It’s very hard to passively gain a new audience. The pop-ups are very intentional, targeted, focused. We see pop-ups as our way to do that.”

The street-performances have given the festival something of a gritty edge. Young recalled one pop-up concert in 2013 at the corner of North Limestone and Loudon. “People brought out old couches; everyone just sitting out on the street corner listening to chamber music and drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon. Cars going by, people walking up asking ‘what’re you doing?’ Experiments like that have left us with this Yin and Yang – weird, pop-up, gritty non-traditional things and then very formal, super high quality innovative programmed concerts in a hall that is perfect for chamber music.”

Innovation has been a consistent thread since the festival’s founding in 2007 by Stone and Lexington native Nathan Cole, now first associate concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and artistic director of the Lexington festival. For example, Lexington’s is the only chamber music festival that commissions a new piece of music every year, according to Young.

“This year’s programming is more new music than old music,” Young said. “It’s very progressive.” In addition to a menu of compositions by lesser-known artists, “We’re playing a piece by Jeff Beal, composer of the themes of the Netflix series House of Cards and HBO’s Carnivale and Rome.”

Guest Artists for 2014 include Composer-in-Residence Adam Schoenberg, harpist Allegra Lilly, and soprano Karen Slack. Returning artists include pianist Alessio Bax, violinist Akiko Tarumoto, cellist Priscilla Lee and Burchard Tang, viola.

Plans call for the more casual events to include the free WindSync concert at Loudon House, a limited-seating brunch at Greentree Tearoom featuring WindSync, and a “laid back” concert by various festival artists at Natasha’s Bar & Bistro.

You can see evidence of this merger of traditional and progressive in a revised festival schedule. “Instead of this being just Friday, Saturday and Sunday concerts out at Fasig-Tipton, we’re doing Wednesday, Friday, Sunday – really pulling it apart so if you come to Lexington to come to the festival, no matter when you come there is something going on,” Young said. “We’ll have a public event every day.”

A first this year will be a lunchtime coffeehouse conversation at Common Grounds on High Street in downtown Lexington featuring composer-in-residence Schoenberg as well as other festival artists.

And there is a place for visual art in the scope of the event’s offerings. The “automata” sculpture of Lexington artist Steve Armstrong was commissioned to be auctioned in support of the festival’s future.

“That the board is so bought-in to trying new things, whether it be commissioning new music every year, commissioning a piece of visual art every year, to doing these very odd programming decisions like playing on the corner of Lime and Loudon, a spot that most people would not associate with chamber music, is incredibly helpful,” Young said. “They have been very open to letting artistic director Nathan Cole, board president Charlie Stone and me try and do something really new and exciting. If something goes wrong, it’s not going to destroy the organization. We just won’t do that next year.”

There have been a few clunkers. Master classes were not well-attended. Open rehearsals were tried. But while perhaps interesting in concept, in practice it just didn’t work. “They’re trying to rehearse, and you can’t hear them talking, so it was sort of awkward,” Young observed.

The open rehearsals have evolved into the Cabaret Concert scheduled for August 21 at Natasha’s. “It’s not as formal. You can sit and have drinks, eat and listen to some amazing music. If I were going to pick my ideal setting for listening to chamber music,” Young said, “that would be it.”

A new addition to the program is an Ensemble-in-Residence retreat with the North Limestone MusicWorks program.

Shaping programming – extending it beyond the formal and inherently rigid confines of the concert hall – to a younger, more casual audience in more accessible, less costly venues is, in Young’s view, essential to the survival of a genre that he believes is afflicted by “self-image crises.”

“I mean, the Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt. The Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt,” he repeated for emphasis. “That should be a wake up call to anyone that you need to think about what you’re doing.”

In arguing that interest in classical music is, in fact, not in decline where new things are tried, Young cited steady annual growth in audiences turning out for Lexington Philharmonic concerts and the Chamber Music Festival. “I think quite the opposite. I think it’s growing. More people are getting interested. Cincinnati Symphony, for example, does this great show, Lumenosity in the middle of the park right in front of Music Hall and if you saw a picture of it you would be flabbergasted. It’s a sea of probably 5,000 people. I think audiences diminish only if you become complacent.”

I asked Richard Young to talk to me about the music itself, in the context of the unstable, troubled world in which we live today. An opportunity to escape for a little while? Or to better connect with reality?

“Chamber music has a very strong ability to allow you to escape, but also to focus on some of these things that are happening. There is a great piece, Quartet for the End of Time (Oliver Messiaen, 1941) that we played two years ago that was written in a WW II prisoner of war camp. It doesn’t get more powerful than that. There is another, On the Transmigration of Souls (John Adams 2002) composed in tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So yes, it has the power to distract, but I think it also has the power to take those issues, embrace them, look at them and give people a new way to experience and to think about them.”

Chamber music pokes at the emotions, Young said. “If you dig down and listen to it, it ranges all the way from really, really funny to really, really depressing. I think you can experience chamber music on multiple levels.”

Watching music performed on a more intimate scale can be as entertaining as listening, he noted. “If you have a great chamber music group, just watching them interacting with each other is something you’re less likely to get in the symphony hall.”

Ensemble-in-Residence WindSync, he noted, plays completely without music. “It’s engaging to watch a two-hour program played from memory by people who have played it a thousand times and know what to expect from each other and when to interact. And when you watch them communicate with each other without talking you can really see the power of chamber music.”

Oh, and as promised: Transylvania University stepped forward to provide accommodations for the five members of WindSync. And a 9-foot Steinway Concert Grand was secured from a generous Cincinnatian.

All is well as August 14th approaches.

Photo courtesy of Mary Rezny

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Transy’s Polashek publishes writers’ block battering ram

polashek_student

“Why isn’t there a word rhythm dictionary?” Tim Polashek once wondered.  He no longer asks. No need. The Transylvania University Assistant Professor of Music got busy responding to his own question, resulting in publication of The Word Rhythm Dictionary: A Resource for Writers, Rappers, Poets, and Lyricists (Rowman & Littlefield), a 689 page gold mine for the creative-yet-stumped.

“I really just see this as another tool. Tools matter in that they offer different perspectives and methods, and can shape direction of creativity,” said Polashek. “For example, some computer programs allow easy reversing of melodic motives. Others don’t. This affects creativity. I’m constantly asking myself and students how a given tool shapes creativity, and to be objective about the tool.”

Rhythm rhymes are defined in the introduction as consisting of two or more words with the same rhythm, sharing the same number of syllables “and relative positions of primarily accented, secondarily accented and unstressed syllables.” Unlike traditional rhymes, rhythm rhymes need not have matching vowel sounds.

Polashek said the book is an expression of his longtime interest in the relationships between music and speech as well as the pitch and rhythms of spoken speech.

He has created a series of computer programs to help him manipulate and search for words with certain properties for creative projects. “For example, show me all the words that have two ‘t’ sounds and a ‘z’ sound.  Or, show me ten words that are five syllables long that have accents on the third syllables.”

Has also has written programs to generate nonsensical text with certain musical properties. “So, when I got around to actually writing the dictionary, I had a lot of software tools to help me.”

The typical rhyming dictionary groups words based on vowel sounds and is primarily concerned with the vowels at the ends of words. The Word Rhythm Dictionary takes a different approach, grouping words by several properties:  syllabic stress (primary, secondary, and unstressed) which determines the rhythm tendencies of the word; within these groups, secondary sorting occurs by vowels; and by consonants. “So as you read the rhythm rhyme-groups there is movement along a timbre/word sound similarity continuum,” he explained.

How might a lyricist or poet use the Polashek dictionary? The author suggests three methods: thinking of a word, then browsing a list of words with identical rhythms; coming up with a poetic foot and then searching a list of words that rhythmically match; or establishing a musical rhythm and then browsing a list of words that rhythmically or lyrically fit.

The approach, said Polashek, makes it easier to locate words that feature similar sounds, matching meters, and rhythmic grooves, from traditional rhymes like “clashing” and “splashing,” to near rhymes like “rollover” and “bulldozer,” “unrefuted undisputed” to pure metrical matches, like “biology” and “photography.”

“Upon observing a couple of words in the same group, some interesting scene or semantic concept might pop into mind that will generate a line of poetry or a lyric, perhaps reflecting some subconscious things that the writer had been considering—a linguist Rorschach test, perhaps?”

Uncategorized

Let’s Focus on What We Already Have

Courthouse section

With the Rupp Arena Area Entertainment District concept now shelved, at least for the time being, attention is returning to some of Lexington’s outstanding existing historic structures in dire need of TLC and holding great potential as re-purposed public spaces.

One such building is the Old Courthouse – situated smack dab in the center of our city, yet sitting there shuttered, moth-balled even as 21c begins to take shape immediately across Upper Street with CentrePointe underway just a stone’s throw across Main. And this is not to mention the burgeoning dining and entertainment district on Short Street.

One consistent advocate of investing in the building’s renovation and return to Lexington’s civic landscape has been Foster Ockerman, Jr. He offers his thoughts in an OpEd appearing in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Please read it, offer your views and share with your friends. We believe this to be a conversation whose time has come.

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Cross-pollination on the rise in Lexington

Broken Queen – Photo by Mark Cornelison

This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.

As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”

Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.

Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.

And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.

Coming up later this month, on June 27, is the Lexington Art League’s CSA LIVE: An evening of story and song, billed as a convergence of Lexington’s literary, music and visual arts scenes.

These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.

This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.

The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?

Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?

Please offer your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Thanks!

Uncategorized

The Rise of ISIS and Why You Should Care

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

In the wake of two Gulf wars costing thousands of American lives and billions in U.S. treasure, Iraq is now rapidly being reshaped into a terrorist state. Transylvania University Political Science professor Michael Cairo, author of The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East (Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy and Peace), replied via email to a series of questions concerning the current escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq as Sunni insurgents seek to create a new ultra fundamentalist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tom Martin: There may be confusion about the forces now in play in Iraq: Shiite versus Sunni and in particular, the full scale of the intentions of the Sunni insurgency and what its success would imply.

Michael Cairo: What most people fail to realize is that Iraq, in its present state, is a post-World War I creation of the mandate system.

Under the Ottoman Empire, the areas within Iraq were far from the center and relatively autonomous.  As long as these regions remained stable and did not upset the Empire’s interests, the Ottomans stayed out of the region.

Following World War I, the British brought three relatively autonomous groups together under one state: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite in the south, and the Sunni triangle in the center of the country.  It is also important to realize that the Shiite have a majority in the country.  Despite the Kurds also being Sunni, they share different interests than the Sunni in the center of the country.

Throughout Iraq’s existence, violence, paternalism, corruption, and patronage have been central to politics.  Saddam Hussein’s rule added to the distrust since he used violence against the Kurdish and Shiite populations and promoted the power and position of the Sunni population within the triangle.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein contributed to distrust and violence.  The Bush administration’s de-Baathification of the country meant the removal of all those associated with Hussein’s regime, including those involved simply for employment. This created a ready-made “angry” Sunni population. The Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki has also contributed to this by ensuring benefits for the Shiite population at the expense of the Sunni.

The current sectarian violence, thus, is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the region and its history.

TM: What US interests are at stake in the present crisis?

MC: First, there is a bit of irony here since it may serve to create additional channels of cooperation for the US and Iran.

In recent years, the Shiite Government of Iraq and the Iranian Government have developed closer relations. Moreover, the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for fighting against the insurgents in the north, suggesting a possible collaborative effort between the Iraqi Shiites, the Iraqi Government, and the Iranian Government with possible assistance from the US (most likely air strikes).  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is ready to help Iraq if asked, and would consider working with the United States in fighting Sunni extremists if the US decides to take action.

At the same time, this could prove problematic for the US since it might potentially increase Iranian power in the region. Not showing a degree of interest could signal to Iran that the US is willing to let Iran extend its power in the region. The U.S. aircraft carrier deployed in the Gulf has, in my opinion, two purposes – one to send a signal to Iran and two to be prepared if the president chooses an air strike option.

Second, the US most certainly has economic interests in the region.  Gas prices have spiked as ISIS has had an impact on oil fields in northern Iraq, shutting down exports from that region.  The heart of Iraq’s oil region is located in the south and an ISIS advance could seriously threaten oil exports and US economic interests in the region.

Third, ISIS could have a significant impact on Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, putting potentially threatening and violent regimes near their borders.  Spill-over from the crisis could have a significant affect on the region and lead to a wider war, which could prove disastrous.

TM: How does the present event differ from previous episodes of civil upheaval in Iraq and the region? The Iranian angle might be one example, but anything else?

MC: The current situation could be seen as a continuation of the past, as well as retribution for the past. Sectarian conflict has been a part of Iraqi history.  Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds and Shiites are well known.  The Shiites have dominated the system since 2003 and have used economic and political patronage, and violence, as a form of retribution and control.  The difference today is that there is an increasingly religious element to the conflict.  Saddam Hussein’s regime was secular. ISIS is an Islamist group, changing the nature of the conflict somewhat.  Iraq is also home to one of the holiest sites for the Shiites, Karbala.  This adds to the threat that ISIS presents.

TM: Is there a credible possibility that what is now Iraq might end up fragmented, giving rise to the imagined ISIS?

MC: Absolutely.  This is certainly a possibility given the fact that Iraq as a state is an artificial creation, drawn on a map with a pencil and a ruler by British diplomats. This, however, would not necessarily mean a reduction in violence since these entities would likely have conflicting interests.  In addition, control of the economic resources – oil – could become even more significant for these new entities.

TM: Why should Americans care about what is happening in Iraq?

MC: First, Iraq’s geographic position in the Middle East – surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey – means that it has implications for the countries that surround it.  What happens in Iraq can have significant ramifications for what happens elsewhere in the Middle East.

Second, Iraq has significant implications for the international economy with its vast oil reserves.  We have already seen oil prices go above $113 as a result, in part, of the conflict.  In addition, the conflict constrains companies  from investing in those oil fields.  It is also important to remember that we are partially responsible for the current crisis in Iraq.  We opened the floodgates with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

TM: There have been observations made in media in recent days to the effect that if Bush over-reached in Iraq, Obama has under-reached. Wherever blame for any U.S. failures may rest, it doesn’t change the fact that with the rise of ISIS we have lost thousands of lives, damaged thousands more and evidently wasted billions in treasure in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.

MC: It is generally correct.  It is a tragic case of conflict.  While Bush certainly overreached, I am not so sure that Obama under reached.  Frankly, I am not convinced that increased US force in Iraq can stabilize the region without a serious long-term commitment.  The American public is not prepared for a permanent  American presence in Iraq and such a presence might only serve to increase reactions from forces like ISIS.

It is important to remember that American domestic politics matters too.  Obama could not have “overreached” even if he wanted to.  The critics often forget what he was handed.  While I certainly admit he’s made mistakes along the way, we need to be careful not to forget that he entered office facing an American public that was tired of war and ready to get out.  Perhaps he over responded to the American public, but our recent experiences in Iraq were impacting both him and the public.  The idea of fighting a long term war was out of the question for most Americans.

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Bulletin board at 3rd Street Stuff Coffee Shop, crowded with posters touting current events

Bulletin board at 3rd Street Stuff Coffee Shop, crowded with posters touting current events

By Tom Martin –

If 15 years ago you had suggested to many in Lexington that there was just “too much going on” you likely would have been met with some knowing skepticism. Even cynicism.

Not so today.

With a boost from the 2010 World Equestrian Games today’s planners of events, shows, theatre, screenings, gigs – audience-driven entertainment of any sort – will probably tell you that for a market Lexington’s size (population approaching 300,000) there are so many options competing for such a limited audience that it’s becoming a challenge to attract enough of a crowd to support costs.

Some might call this a “lovely problem” and indeed, it sure beats the opposite. But it remains that the non-stop weekly array of choices, in combination with the powerfully seductive competition posed by digital technologies, often make event planning in Lexington a nerve-wracking gamble.

UnderMain would like to know what you think of this. What is your perception of the entertainment scene in Lexington today? Will market forces sort out the winners and losers on that crowded events calendar?

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Kentucky Pols: right or wrong on Climate Change?

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says of President Obama’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, “It was a dumb-ass thing to do, and you can quote me.”  Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from coal-producing Clay County, told the Lexington Herald-Leader he agrees with Stumbo’s assessment of the proposed regulations.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes calls the president’s plan “pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”

Will history prove them famously correct? Or terribly wrong? Please take a moment to read thoroughly Ezra Kein’s sobering assessment of just where things stand with this matter of climate change. (With apologies to the sensitive for the profanity in the beginning.)

Then, we hope you will offer your thoughts via one or some of our social media options.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

Bob Bryant: Our Music Scene from a bassist’s eye view

IMG_3516When touring artists find themselves in need of a bass player while performing in Lexington the “go to” musician is Bob Bryant. Bob has held down the bottom for everybody from Alex Acuna, Rosemary Clooney and Al Hurt to Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, J.P. Pennington and Larry Cordell. He’s a regular on the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour and is often found performing as a duo with one of a couple of other local masters, Jay Flippin and Ben Lacy. 

Bob has played in all sorts of venues and in all sorts of situations. He has a unique “bassists’ eye view” of the Lexington scene.

UnderMain asked him to share some observations. Here are Bob’s thoughts:

Hopefully, slipping into the membership of Lexington’s “Old Guard” is a good thing in terms of music affairs. Regardless of where I’ve lived or worked, Lexington has always been considered home for me, and never have I lost focus on this community or it’s musical well being.

When asked to compose a couple of paragraphs on the topic, initially the task appeared a struggle in any attempt to display an honestly positive overall outlook. My concerns were (and are) a conspicuous digression in the manner many venues (among the many exceptions) treat musicians as the new norm.

More discouraging by observation is the often belligerent status of the new generation audience. I am often amazed by the ‘party’ atmosphere amidst spectacular musical performances that would never be tolerated in other nearby cities, and traditionally would not have occurred locally.

Though great news to follow, it’s a shame to lose sight of just how amazing the storied tradition of Lexington’s music scene had been until just a couple of decades past. It was truly something, with ‘great’ bands slamming on every street corner while others participated in the “New Circle shuffle,” traveling from one beltway venue to another.

And this is not to mention a bustling recording scene: red-eyed musicians at 8:00 a.m., recovering from their 5 night  stand, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes, participating in pre-production plans for an all-day session, just to depart directly back to the bandstand, and then do it all over again.

Such meetings took place in a control room including a 2 inch tape recording deck, a mixing console big enough to sleep 4, and a room full of outboard gear so hot the AC ran full out in the dead of winter. The cigarette smoke was unbearable. And the coffee was awful no matter which studio you were working. Those days are history.

On the other hand, all is not lost; not by any means. Extraordinarily talented young musicians continue the tradition of uncanny musicianship known to this unlikely expanse. We should all be so proud of them as they thankfully persevere in this relatively new hostile environment (which incidentally includes Pro Tools).

In addition to the youngsters are other categorical heroes, for example, the relative unknowns. Such is the case of University of Kentucky PhD candidate, Jay Crutcher. Jay’s newest upcoming solo album features some of the finest performing/producing I’ve ever heard.

Another new mover and shaker is UK orchestra conductor John Nardolillo, who has taken the organization to inclusion among the nations absolute elite. Most concerts are free to the public; just show up!

And of course to weigh in on behalf of the previously mentioned ’old guard’ there is the formidable Jay Flippin legacy (of which I am a grateful member). The pianist, a true national treasure, not only raised an entire brood of young music students into career-minded professionals, but serves as the standard for all musicians to aspire. The Jay Flippin/Gail Wynters duo is an unimaginable treat of true greatness!

There is plenty for which to feel positive; amazing musicians-young and not so young, in or out of the spotlight. Helpful would be a little less chaos in the listening rooms, a little more support from (some) venue operators, and acknowledgement of a great future as all these artists are eager to share their gift.

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‘Book of Visions’ premieres at Transy

The world premiere stage production of Maurice Manning’s award-winning book of poetry “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” debuted March 27 in Transylvania University’s Lucille Caudill Little Theater. This ensemble performance portrays friendships and fantasies from the colorful life of young Lawrence “Law” Booth who imagines incredible things to escape his troubles.

Set in Appalachia in the 1970s and 80s, the coming-of-age poetic saga focuses on the adventures of the rebellious Booth, his scurrilous Mad Daddy, his best friend Black Damon, the perhaps imaginary Missionary Woman and Red Dog, his beloved canine pal.

Drawn directly from Manning’s poems, this theatrical adaptation features vivid monologues, startling revelations, choral storytelling, Appalachian music and many weird and wondrous visions all brought to vigorous life by Transylvania student actors and a professional production team.

“Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” took Manning, an English professor and writer-in-residence at Transylvania, more than 10 years to write. It was a project he began right out of college, and although he felt unsure of what he was doing, he was certain he wanted to be a writer.

“I didn’t really know what that meant or how to go about it,” Manning said. “I just wanted to be a person who read books and carried around a pen and scraps of paper, someone who studies the world for its meaning.”

Manning must have figured it out. “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. “Manning’s unfaltering audacity is equaled by its artistic control, and the result is an astonishing collection, still more astonishing as a first book,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and contest judge W. S. Merwin in his foreword. “The individual poems…bring on a cast of characters who recur in a spectrum of forms and phantoms, luminous shapes altering the same kaleidoscope.”

It was this cast of characters that Transylvania theater professor Michael Bigelow Dixon found compelling when reading the work of his fellow faculty member. Dixon says, “I read ‘Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions’ and recognized how theatrical it was: There are continuing characters, a journey filled with dramatic events and a unique poetic voice. Then I attended Maurice Manning’s readings and realized how vibrant and engaging his work is when read aloud.”

It took theater faculty and students four months of meetings, comparisons of experimental drafts and conversations exploring the thematic and theatrical intent of the piece. Different versions of the script were read aloud multiple times by the adaptors and members of the creative team—designers, stage manager and producer. The theatrical adaptation was a team effort consisting of Dixon; Lexington-based Project SEE Theatre professionals Evan Bergman, Ellie Clark and Sullivan White; and first-year Transylvania student Theodora Z. Salazar.

Dixon describes the final product as a “bildungsroman,” or coming-of-age story, divided into three parts that align with Booth’s childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. “It’s a portrait of the artist as a young man in Appalachia,” explains Dixon, and each section includes six to nine poems that offer insight into the development of his character through conflict, friendship and fantasy.

The production includes a prologue and epilogue, reflecting Maurice Manning’s own introduction and conclusion to his collection of poems. Manning, Dixon and Ellie Clark recently talked with author Silas House about “Book of Visions” on the radio program “Hillbilly Solid.” The interview starts at 39:41 and may be heard here.

In addition to enjoying the play, guests can see a faculty/student photography exhibition curated to reflect the themes of the production and Transylvania’s many connections with Appalachian culture. The works will be on display near the theater entrance. And the Transylvania University a cappella group, TBA, has composed and will sing the poem, “A Prayer Against Forgetting Boys,” at a limited number of performances.

If you go

Performances of “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” will be April 5, 7:30 p.m.; and April 6, 2 p.m.

All performances are staged in the Lucille Caudill Little Theater, on Transylvania’s historic campus, located off Fourth Street between North Broadway and Upper Streets in downtown Lexington. There is ample parking in the adjacent Mitchell Fine Arts Center parking lot and handicap/disability parking and seating are available for all the productions.

Tickets are $10 each for general admission and $5 each for the Transylvania community. Tickets may be reserved by calling the box office at 859-281-3621 weekdays March 24-28 and March 31-April 4 between 1–4 p.m. The Little Theater box office is also open one hour prior to performances. For more information, contact Transylvania’s fine arts office at 859-233-8141.

Uncategorized

Ky Dems Differ on Conway, Beshear Appeal Duel

No one can recall anything quite like it: Kentucky’s Attorney General and Governor at odds over a federal judge’s ruling that the state must recognize same-sex marriages.

Attorney General Jack Conway announced that he would not appeal, citing opposition to discrimination and conscience. Conway’s emotional announcement was followed immediately by a statement from Governor Steve Beshear announcing that he will enlist outside counsel to mount an appeal in the belief that the matter is best settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Phillip M. Bailey reports for Louisville public radio station WFPL, the split between Beshear and Conway has renewed the division among Kentucky Democrats over gay marriage.

Family Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Martin Cothran commented on Conway’s decision and fielded reporters’ questions. Watch the video from courier-journal.com

Have thoughts? Comment on our Facebook page.

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Russian-Ukraine Conflict: Why It Matters

Dr.-Ken-SlepyanUkraine is the scene of a rapidly escalating crisis that has raised fears of a military conflict. As world leaders push for a diplomatic solution, UnderMain launches a dialogue of local perspectives on this global event.

We posed key questions to Transylvania University History Professor Ken Slepyan, author of Stalin’s Guerillas, an account of the Soviet partisan movement in WWII.

UM: Can you enlighten our readers on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine?

KS: Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history.  The first Russian state was actually centered in Kiev, the current capital of Ukraine.  The areas that comprise today’s Ukraine have been at different times (and often simultaneously) a part of the Russian Empire, Poland, and the Austrian Empire.  Eastern Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire in the seventeenth century, while the West remained part of the Kingdom of Poland, and then the Austrian Empire.  The borders of contemporary Ukraine  were established only in 1939 (under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when the USSR annexed western regions from a resurrected Poland).  Because of these varied histories, the culture, experiences, perspectives, and demographics of Ukraine are quite different from each other in the East, West, and South, with Western Ukraine pulled more towards Europe and Eastern Ukraine to Russia.  However, you can find many Ukrainian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, Russian speakers in Western Ukraine, and Ukrainians who speak Russian but identify with Ukraine rather than Russia.

It is also worth noting that in the Crimea, while ethnic Russians do constitute a majority of the population (a little above 50%), the significant Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar populations do not want to be a part of Russia.  The Russian majority was achieved, in part, by the mass expulsion of the Tatar population in 1944 based on alleged collaboration with the Germans, and the resettlement of the area by Russians.  (The Tatars have been returning in large numbers since the 1990s). Also, while it is a bit of an urban legend that Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine on a whim in 1954, there are sound geographical reasons why the peninsula was administratively attached to Ukraine, primarily because of food, water, and power needs.

UM:Why should we care about what is going on in Ukraine?

KS: Ukraine is a country that is a bridge between the rest of Europe and Russia and  the Eurasian continent.  It has a culture and history tied both to Russia and Central/Eastern Europe and “belongs” to no country in particular.  We should also care that a sovereign, democratic nation be able to choose its own political course without being invaded by a neighbor who doesn’t like the results when Ukraine poses no threat to Russia’s existence.  It also important that the European continent remain stable and peaceful.  Ignoring Russia’s actions will undermine this objective.  This said, Ukraine is more important economically to the countries of the EU than it is to the US.

UM: What are the Russian Federation’s strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has deemed the “near abroad” (former republics of the Soviet Union) an essential part of its sphere of influence.  There are three main strategic concerns: 1. The control of the naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea, the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, and necessary for access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  Losing Sevastopol and Crimea would be viewed by the Russians as a catastrophic strategic defeat (however, there is no credible indication that this was a real possibility) 2. The protection of ethnic Russians living in the near abroad, such as the populations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; 3. The establishment of a “Eurasian Union” consisting of former states of the Soviet Union, with Russia as its head, to serve both as counterweight to the European Union and to secure Russian hegemony in the region.  Also, perhaps less important, but also possibly a factor, Ukraine’s heavy industry is located in Eastern Russia (although much of this industry is not up to world production standards).

UM:What are the United States’ strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: What happens in Ukraine is important but I hesitate to say that in itself it constitutes a vital American strategic interest.  As part of the deals to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine, we are signatories, along with the Russians, to the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.  It is not in American interests on principle for Russia to violate Ukrainian territorial integrity, and for the message that this sends to other Central/Eastern European nations and the other countries in Russia’s near abroad.  Moreover, Ukrainians, especially in the West look to the US for support and we cannot take that role lightly.

UM: What are the realistic response options for the United States at this juncture?

KS: As I see it, American options are very limited.  I do not think that military intervention is a realistic option or even desirable option, given our lack of immediate bases in the region, the stretching out of our forces dealing with situations, and (not least!) the fear that this could escalate in a much more serious crisis between the US and Russia (both of whom still have substantial nuclear weapons).  The response will therefore have to be political and economic: isolation of Russia (such as not participating in preparations for the upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, or boycotting them altogether), targeted economic sanctions, possibly aimed at the business community to put pressure on Putin from that direction etc..  It will be necessary to get support from the EU and other countries for these to be effective, but it is unclear how far these other states would go along with these, especially since many EU states remain dependent on Russian natural gas (as does Ukraine).  However, if Russia believes that securing/annexing parts of Ukraine are that important to it, then our responses won’t be able to achieve much of anything, except as a signal to the Russians that we oppose this action.

However, while these measures may be necessary, we also have to remember that we need Russia’s cooperation on other important national security issues: the disabling of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, our current position in Afghanistan, and continued pressure on Iran to deal with that country’s nuclear threat.  We will have to be intentional as to what our priorities are in these areas with respect to Ukraine.

Uncategorized

Cultural Affairs Can Be a Load of Crap

Someone I know, pondering a try at local politics, recently wondered if his ideas even mattered. Politics and public service, these days, do seem so co-opted, so corporatized by the powerful and monied that it was easy to understand and impossible to dismiss his sense of futility.

Many of us share it. No point in going into the reasons. We’re all more than aware to the point of increasing -and dangerous- cyncism of what has become of the high ideals of statesmanship.

So, can you actually make a difference? Any difference? Do you have a voice? Can your voice influence public policy and bring about positive change or improvement?

Indulge us a bit as we get this thing called UnderMain underway. We actually do believe the answer is “yes.” And part of our mission is to encourage and facilitate your voice as a powerful Lexington cultural resource.

You are invited to become a contributor to the UnderMain blog community. Send your submission for consideration to editorial@under-main.com. Consideration? Yes. There is plenty of snark out there. That’s well covered. This is a place where we talk frankly, but with respect, about moving things forward. We will offer observations of our own from time to time, but our hope is to create a carousel of perspectives and ideas about our cultural landscape and conditions.

I’d like to get this rolling with what may seem an odd question for a cultural affairs magazine. But you know? Sewage is a cultural affair.

So, this multiple choice quiz for your consideration:

How aware are you of the details of the city’s agreement with the EPA to fix the mess that is our ghastly mingled system of sanitary and storm sewers?

I’m up on it

I’m somewhat aware

I’m vaguely aware

I know very little

Huh?

Are you aware that city officials anticipate that implementation of their plan to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act will cost the city at least $600 million?

Yes, fully aware

No. You’re kidding?

Did you know that this cost is being covered with a recently enacted sewage fee that most likely will have to be increased?

Yes and I would support an increase to ensure Lexington is in full compliance.

Yes, but I do not support a tax increase for this purpose

Fixing sewers is decidedly unsexy compared with creating an entertainment district in our downtown. But there is a limit to what our tax base can support. Which is your priority?

Fix the sewers

Build the entertainment district

Which of the following best describes you as a Fayette County citizen?

Actively engaged in the affairs of my community

Interested in the affairs of my community

Somewhat aware of what’s going on

Aware but too busy to care

Unaware but wish I knew more

Unaware. Blissfully unaware.