Category Archives: News

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.

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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.

IMG_0849 (1)

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~

Related:

Art Shechet on status of Confederate Statues in downtown Lexington

Recent articles by Tom Martin:

Post Truth or Post Trust?

In Search of Another Way

Friendship in Troubling Times

The Wedding Day Kiss

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.

All, News

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, 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.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, News, 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.

News, Politics, topical

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.

Environment, News, Politics, Uncategorized

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.

All, News

‘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.

All, News, Politics

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.

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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.