Category Archives: topical

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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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Film Premiere to Illuminate Kentucky’s Energy Future

In the fall of 2015, Kentucky filmmaker Ben Evans bought his first electric car, a used Nissan LEAF. This week his new documentary film, EVOLVE: Driving a Clean Future in Coal Country, premieres at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington. It is a “one night only” showing. The film is about electric cars, their evolving place in Kentucky transportation, and the reach of the new energy economy into Eastern Kentucky, long the dominion of Big Coal.

“After I got my LEAF,” said Evans, “it was in the spring of 2016 when I was contacted by Stuart Ungar to see if I’d make a short promotional film about Evolve KY.” Evolve KY is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization of electric vehicle owners and enthusiasts that Ungar co-founded in Louisville to promote electrified personal transportation. Evans was known for his award-winning films, YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip and NERVE.

“This kind of followed a similar creative trajectory to my previous film NERVE,” said Evans. He was contacted in 2014 by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation to make a film short about KEF and its work with the issues of chemical weapons disposal at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond. The project expanded into a full-fledged documentary, over an hour in length. EVOLVE also became a full-length documentary, about an hour in length.

“What happens,” said Evans, “is that, as I learn more, the initial subject becomes increasingly interconnected with others, and I end up feeling like I can’t do it justice within a short promotional format. I like things that have a story arc and emotional connection.” As with NERVE, Evans, with concerned parties, undertook an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for the EVOLVE film.

Behind the wheel of a Tesla in Whitesburg, KY

Evans says the film starts with a focus on electric cars in Kentucky and the work of Evolve KY, then reaches into Eastern Kentucky energy. “It was important to me to get out to Eastern Kentucky and explore what’s going on out there with the energy transition because this relates directly to how we’re powering our electrified transportation future,” he said. “It’s a part of the country where they’ve been locked into a boom and bust coal economy for a long time, and as the world moves away from coal, they’re trying to figure out what comes next and how they can be a part of it. I was surprised to see how eager a lot of these communities are to find sustainable foundations for their economic future. They understand much more than what they are often given credit for by the national media, and, at the end of the day, they just want durable jobs that will let them stay in their communities with their families. All the better if they can build something that will preserve their mountain heritage.”

The film shines light on the solar farm created in Winchester by the Eastern KY Power Cooperative. The University of Kentucky Solar Car Team is also featured.

UK Solar Car Team

A visit to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham finds an array of rooftop solar panels that have been built onto the museum, marking a potent symbol of change.


Kent Lewis on top of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum

Then the film takes an in-depth view of EnerBlu.

EnerBlu proposes to become a very big deal for Kentucky. Its executive headquarters are in Lexington, while its manufacturing facilities will be atop the former Marion Branch coal mine, 154 flattened acres in the mountains of Pikeville that will be home for the production of advanced energy storage batteries based on eLTO technology.

The company will bring approximately 1,000 jobs to the region, and its technology will advance the renewable energy sector. It will be the first manufacturing company in the U.S. to work with this specific kind of battery technology, though that technology was first developed here.

The film also features Adam Edelen, founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures, who is spearheading plans for a 50-100 megawatt solar installation in Pike County. It would be the largest solar installation in this part of the country, and would also occupy another vast former mountaintop removal mining site. “Bringing Republicans and Democrats together is far easier than bringing together solar developers and coal executives,” Edelen said to Kentucky Today. “But we’ve got it and we’re doing this big important thing; and if it works, it will be transformative.” The project would retrain 400 out-of-work coal miners for jobs at the installation.

Kenny Stanley of Berkeley Energy Group on the site of a future 50-100 megawatt solar farm

“There’s a certain poetic justice in the possibility that some of these mountains that were sacrificed to extract coal might now be able to help save other mountains by showing new paths to sustainable energy production, job creation, and prosperity,” said Evans.

The film’s soundtrack includes Kentucky musicians. Evans says he has a good working relationship with Gill Holland, who founded the Kentucky record label, SonaBLAST!, giving the filmmaker access to much of that catalog. Kentucky artists on the soundtrack include the “new folk” band Beady, Ben Sollee, Bastion, and The Pass. Evans also included music by Owen Evans, his younger brother out in Arizona. 

The premiere of EVOLVE is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 6, at the Kentucky Theater and is being presented by EnerBlu, UK Student Government, and Evolve KY. Tickets can be purchased at KentuckyTheater.com or at the door, and UK students with student IDs will have free admission. Two or three electric vehicles will be parked in front of the theater that evening for a pre-screening EV showcase. A post-screening panel discussion with stars of the film will include Michael Weber, Executive Chairman of EnerBlu; Adam Edelen, Founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures; Wrensey Gill, VP of Evolve KY and Director of the Lexington Chapter; members of the UK Solar Car Team; and the filmmaker.

For tickets and information, click here.

Ben Evans gets a thumbs up from the film’s audio engineer Jordon Ellis

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UK Cafe: Why is There a University of Kentucky Themed Restaurant in Osaka, Japan?

There are more connections between Osaka, Japan and Kentucky than one might probably expect. Firstly, the University of Kentucky has a very close relationship with Osaka’s Kansai Gaidai University and has been sending students abroad there for decades. In addition to this academic connection, in 1985, following the victory of the Osaka-based underdogs of the Nippon League, the Hanshin Tigers, at the Japan baseball Championship Series, some rowdy Tigers fan removed a statue of Colonel Sanders from the front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and threw it in the Dotenburi Canal from Ebisu Bridge, as an effigy to Tigers’ foreign slugger, Randy Bass, who had helped carry the team.

This incident led to the “Curse of the Colonel”, which is believed to have caused an 18 year long losing streak, which was not broken until the statue was pulled out of the river in March 2009. The statue was still missing it’s glasses and left hand, but, nonetheless, the curse was broken and now all KFCs in Osaka have been ordered to bolt down their Colonel Sanders statues (especially when the team is playing well.)

Here is video of when they found the sunken statue.

While the connections are obviously there, most Kentuckians may only be aware of Osaka Japanese Restaurant in Lexington, but likely don’t realize that there are 3 University of Kentucky themed restaurants, all called UK Cafe, in Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures.

When most people around the world, and in Japan, hear “UK”, they likely think United Kingdom, but for the initiated Big Blue Nation fans, we undoubtedly think University of Kentucky every time. As a UK alumni and Wildcat fan, I decided to venture to western Japan to interview the owner of UK Cafe, Yoko Hirayama, who is from Osaka, and runs all 3 UK Cafe restaurants. She picked us up from Sakura Shukugawa Train Station on a rainy Tuesday in her Cadillac and told us her story.

In 1979, Hirayama’s husband went to the University of Kentucky for one year as an exchange student and was inspired by the American diner food that he had at student potluck parties. Initially, when he arrived, he didn’t speak English and was very timid. While he was here, he started playing billiards and, through that, met some friends. When he came back to Japan, to settle back into the Kansai area, he wanted to start a diner that had similar “American Size Power Food” for other university students in Osaka who were in need of late-night high calorie meals. He loved the University of Kentucky and thought about naming the restaurant Lexington Cafe, but he ultimately decided on UK Cafe and that was the beginning.

The first UK Cafe opened up in Eastern Osaka in 1980 and, now, there are three different UK Cafe restaurants, including the second Osaka shop, in Sakai Ohama Nishimachi, that opened in 1992. and the most recent shop, in Hyogo Prefecture, opening in 2010. The menu is based on the travel experiences of the Hirayamas and their trips to Kentucky and every state in the U.S., trying specialty foods that they discovered on the way. They arranged these items, like Denver Omelets, to fit the Japanese palate and quickly gathered a large following of people hungry for good food, for a cheap price, and lots of it. In fact, people constantly steal their handwritten menus because of the stories attached to each item.

The menu is divided between main dishes, salads & sandwiches, breakfast & lunch, burgers, spaghetti, & omelets, desserts, and drinks. There are bourbon cocktails and there is a UK Special Sandwich, which is made up of potatoes, country ham, and cheese. There is also an item on the menu called Super Soul, that is a spicy Gyu Motsu Korean dish connected to former WLAP-FM Lexington radio DJ, Billy Love. Initially, they were open all night, 365 days of the year, but lately, due to a shortage of personnel from 3-8AM, they’ve been closing for a few hours in the late morning.

Before her husband’s passing a few years ago, the couple visited Kentucky many times together and, when I asked Hirayama what her first impression of Kentucky was, she mentioned Kentucky’s beautiful farms and it’s unique fencing. The couple modeled the fencing in the front of the Hyogo Prefecture branch of the restaurant with the same type of Paddock Fence design motif. The couple also thought that Lexington was a beautiful university town that was very safe and peaceful and had a unique connection to Japan via Toyota and other Japanese businesses. The crowd at the restaurant is a mix of Japanese students, families,  and the occasional visitor from Kentucky. Hirayama told me that the UK Men’s Basketball team has visited the Higashi-Osaka branch of the restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated with UK Wildcat posters, tables with the Kentucky state flag on them, and tons of model cars all over the interior. There is even a set of JBL speakers that play Bob Marley, The Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and mostly southern classic rock. There is another special Kentucky item in the garage of the Hyogo restaurant, in the form of a 1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray split-window, which the couple bought in the US about 30 years ago and had it shipped to Japan. The car was her husband’s favorite car, and he dreamed of owning one since he was in elementary school. A rare site,  even in the states, 1963 was the only year that Chevrolet produced these Corvettes with the split window in the back.

Some of the other items on their menu include a dish called “Goodbye Donkey”, which is taking a jab at the generic Japanese burger chain restaurant, Bikkuri Donkey. There is also a dish called Mr. Trucker’s Sandwich, which is a huge cheeseburger with onion, ham, and pickles, dedicated to very large Union 76 truckers that the couple met everywhere.

My friend from Gunma, Chef Shinya Matsubara of Tokiwakan, told me that while he was a college student in Osaka, he often went to the Higashi-Osaka branch and ordered the Good Bye Nagoya, which is a piece of miso-katsu-sauce-covered sinewy meat atop a pile of fried rice. When he was reflecting on his time there, and how many interesting canned American beers that they used to have, Shinya remembered that the cafe was relaxed, affordable, and gave you a lot of food; the perfect place to power up for a busy Osakan university student. However, when I asked him if he was aware that the theme of the cafe was based on the University of Kentucky, he said, “Honestly, most people probably think it’s based on the United Kingdom, but I guess I was wondering, where are all the fish and chips?”

Check out my interview with UK Cafe Owner, Yoko Hirayama, with interpretation assistance from Junko Takahashi.

If you can’t make it to Japan, you can visit UK Cafe’s website at http://ukcafe.net

However, if you can make the trip, here is the information that you’ll need:

UK WILDCATS CAFE – The larger shop with the 1963 Corvette in Hyogo Prefecture
西宮武庫川店 (Nishinomiya Mukogawa Branch)
1-15-27 Tsunematsu
Amagasaki-Shi, Hyogo-Ken 661-0046
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 9AM-3AM
Link to the Yelp page: Here

UK WILDCATS CAFE – Honten (the original Eastern Osaka shop)
高井田店(Higashi-Osaka Takaida Branch)
5-4-30 Takaida-Nishi, Higashi-Osaka-shi 577-0067
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 10AM-4AM
Link to the Yelp page: Here

UK WILDCATS Cafe – Southern Osaka location
堺大浜店 (Sakai Ohama-Nishimachi Branch)
23 Ohama Nishimachi, Sakai-shi
Sakai-ku, Osaka-fu 590-0977
Hours: Open 365 days of the year from 9AM-Midnight

Also, if you are from Kentucky, why don’t you send them something nice? 🙂

Listen to a conversation with Chuck on WEKU’s Eastern Standard:

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CivicLex Is Live!

For the past two years UnderMain has been collaborating on a new civic engagement project, CivicLex. Initiated by the board of directors of ProgressLex (now evolved into the board for the new project), UnderMain has been proud to partner on the development and realization of CivicLex. The aim of CivicLex is to, “…to build a more civically engaged community by providing easier access to information and building stronger relationships between citizens and those that serve them.”

A major development milestone was reached this past week with the project’s online site going live. The website, civiclex.org, allows citizens of Lexington to explore vital local issues in depth in one online location, and provides resources to explore the issues in more depth and to engage with those issues and decision-makers more fully. For example, the website has a searchable feature to identify a citizen’s council member and has schedules of critical meetings related to the issues the site is covering. In doing so, CivicLex provides tools for people to navigate what can often seem to be byzantine and opaque civic and governance systems and processes.

CivicLex developed an excellent brief video to orient visitors to the project and the website.

In addition to its online presence, CivicLex, has opportunities for Lexingtonians to participate in live events concerning issues of local importance. Over the past few months project staff conducted a series of workshops concerning different sectors of the city’s budget, and the budgetary sector reports are included in the website’s resource hub. It is important to note that CivicLex is an ongoing project and will continue to roll out coverage of new issues on its issues hub and through live presentations, workshops, and other forms of civic engagement.

CivicLex is supported through grants by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, and donations from individuals from across Lexington. Access to the website is free and users are encouraged to subscribe to the newsletter and make one-time or monthly donations.

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Artists’ Live-Work Space Planned for East Side

“This is where I was born and spent the early years of my childhood, about two blocks over on East Fifth Street,” said Mark Lenn Johnson, President of Art Inc. Kentucky (AIK). We were walking across a rough grass field on Lexington’s East Side, headed toward the development site of AIK’s Artist Village, a project which merges Johnson’s expertise in small business development and his passion as an artist – he recently received international recognition for his artwork; more on that later.

AIK is a business and marketing incubator for artists and creative entrepreneurs operated by Community Ventures, a statewide non-profit organization that for over 35 years has brought economic development to underserved communities across Kentucky by helping individuals and families to start and run businesses and own their own homes. Twenty years ago, Johnson began his work in the small and micro business development industry with Community Ventures. He went on to work for several years with the Bluegrass Small Business Development Center, then spent nine years running the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Small Business Services Division. After five years back at Community Ventures, he’s now launching AIK.

The idea of AIK was inspired in great part by Johnson’s experience as an artist. He had a quick rise to international recognition for his art, considering that the work he gained recognition for he discovered and developed starting in 2015.

Johnson’s creative journey began in 2005 when he began working with polymer clay, creating beadwork and jewelry, which he soon found markets for. In 2010, he left polymer clay behind and began working with art glass under the tutelage of Laura Hollock, a well-known glass artist who ran Hollock Stained Glass in Lexington before retiring. With several kilns in his studio, Johnson creates beautiful art glass vessels which he sells through various outlets.

In 2015, flooding in Johnson’s studio temporarily shut down the kilns. It was during that lull in his glass work that his attention was captured by a mess on the kitchen counter. He and his sons had paints out. Johnson found himself transfixed by the sight of paint pigments swirling in puddles of water on the countertop. This inspired him to experiment, and he soon captured photographs of droplets of dye billowing into the water. That series of photographs he titled Water Silks.

From “Water Silk” series by Mark Lenn Johnson

Then came his Color Swims, a series of images that captured color pigments moving through milk. He found that soured milk created eye-catching effects. He manipulated colors using brushes, spoons and air blowing from a hairdryer.

“Color Swims” by Mark Lenn Johnson

Color Swims was followed by Johnson’s stunning Fountain Fall series, which he describes as “high-speed water drop photography.”

From “Fountain Fall” series by Mark Lenn Johnson

He began posting images of this new body of work on Facebook. Artblend, an art gallery and publisher based in Fort Lauderdale, contacted Johnson, inviting him to exhibit his work at Art Expo 2016 in New York City, touted as the world’s largest fine arts trade show. A Finnish art gallery owner attending the Expo invited Johnson to exhibit his work at the spring, 2017 Art Shopping exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, France.  As a result of that exhibit, ArtTour International Magazine saw Johnson’s work and named him one of their Top 60 International Masters of Contemporary Art for 2017. For that honor his photography was shown in the fall of 2017 at the ATIM Ceremony in Florence, Italy, where he received an award for his work.

Inspired and energized,  Johnson took a new direction with Community Ventures.  His vision: AIK would bring to life the arts incubator along with plans for Artist Village and an art gallery. Community Ventures already has two successful incubators, and Johnson has drawn on that organizational experience. The Center for Entrepreneurs on North Broadway in Lexington provides office space and support services for small businesses. Chef Space in Louisville provides culinary entrepreneurs with kitchen spaces and access to professional equipment for food preparation. Johnson’s vision for AIK calls for providing artists with an array of essential services for their work.

“We started by talking to a number of artists,” said Johnson. “We asked what they’d like to see out there to help them. A lot of the artists told us they knew the importance of websites and quality photography. The same with social media. But they just didn’t have the time or know how to deal with all that. And then there’s the need for assistance with setting up their businesses and dealing with legal issues. One of the most important things to artists is having the opportunities to sell their artwork. So, we took all of that into consideration when we developed AIK. We’re dedicated to helping artists and entrepreneurs in creative industries build their business, gain exposure and generate revenue while helping boost the local economy.”

For enlarged view, click: Artist-Village-Illustrative

AIK 21 artists have signed up for different levels of support, Johnson said. They include painters, woodworkers, novelists, and photographers. The incubator is also open to creative entrepreneurs, such as fashion designers and chefs. “We try to make it as affordable as possible for as many artists as possible,” he said.

On Goodloe Street, on the East Side, stands the old Stanley Fizer, Incorporated building that was constructed back in the 1940s. It is now boarded up where windows and skylights once lit the interior. “My Daddy built that,” said Teddy Fizer of Fizer Mechanical.

Image of old Fizer building taken in 1940s. Workers lined up with service trucks.

“It was back during World War II, and timber beams weren’t available,”Fizer continued. “My Daddy drove up into the mountains and bought those timber beams and trucked them back. You can see those beams on the inside crossing up top and down the sides. The concrete floor was poured over ash. Back then people were burning coal for heat up and down the street, so that ash was put down and the concrete was poured, and that’s the reason that concrete floor looks the way it does.” Teddy said he’s the one who sold the building to Community Ventures.

The old Fizer building as it will appear after rehabilitation as the gallery | Credit: Bobby Morris, AIA LEED AP BD+C, Morris Workshop Architects, pllc

The plan is to convert the old Fizer building into a retail art gallery with studio spaces for artists.  Stretching behind the building is an acre of barren land. That land combined with the land that stretches along Warnock Street will become home to Artist Village, a series of over 10 residences to be built on either side of an open green space. The residences will range in size from 700 to 1,300 square feet. Each residence will have an attached art studio the size of a one car garage with a garage door that opens onto the green space. The green space, Johnson says, will be the site of art fairs with visiting artists exhibiting beneath canopy tents. A wide walking path originating under an arch on Third Street will lead into the village, where visitors can peruse exhibits, visit the gallery and meet the resident artists in their studios where art can be purchased.

Mark Lenn Johnson shares his vision

Johnson says the city has granted the appropriate zoning for all of these activities. He also said several artists have funding lined up to buy residences and live in the Village. He hopes to break ground on the project in July. Rehabilitation of the old Fizer building is currently underway and will be completed after a capital campaign has achieved its funding goal.

“This is a passion project for me,” said Johnson. “It’s an opportunity to return to my old neighborhood and help artists while helping to reinvigorate the community.”

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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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Saving Kentucky: Kentucky Natural Lands Trust & The Pine Mountain Collective

We often talk about “saving the world” in a lofty, abstract sense, devoid of any tangible plan of action to actually deter the rapid path of ecological destruction that we’re on. The truth is that only about seven percent of Kentucky’s lands are publicly protected, which is lower than any other state that borders Kentucky. In the face of all of this, since 1995, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust (KNLT) has been raising awareness of Kentucky’s natural treasures as well as raising money to purchase and protect some of the most endangered and diverse ecosystems in the United States. As of 2018, KNLT has directly purchased 13,000 acres of land and helped financially leverage the purchase of more than 34,000 acres across the state.

Kentucky Natural Lands Trust started as a group of friends who were highly motivated to make a difference and succeeded in saving the largest tract of old-growth forest in the state, Blanton Forest. The state-wide non-profit land trust is working to protect, connect, and restore wildlands throughout Kentucky. It was formed in the mid-90s when Senior Ecologist at the Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission, Marc Evans, teamed up with former Director of the Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Hugh Archer, along with several others, in a communal effort to protect Blanton. The scope of their work quickly expanded from 2000 acres to working towards the preservation of the entire Pine Mountain corridor. Many of KNLT’s purchases have connected critical habitats essential for already marginalized wildlife and some of these lands have already been sold to become part of state-owned preserved Kentucky public lands.

Black-throated green warbler ~ photo by Dan Pancamo (Creative Commons)

“The way that we got here and started working on it [Pine Mountain] was Blanton Forest, this unique, iconic place that we protected back in the nineties, working with the State Nature Preserves Commission. Ultimately, the group realized that they knew, from the work that they had done there, that it was a really unique place and there was an opportunity to work more on the mountain.” – Greg Abernathy, Executive Director of KNLT

The main chunk of KNLT’s work is in the Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor, which is a 125 mile overthrust fault that starts at the Kentucky-Virginia border at Breaks Interstate Park, “The Grand Canyon of the East”, and extends all the way through Harlan County to Tennessee. It has only a few roads that cross it, a handful of river breaks, and is a major contiguous migratory corridor for wildlife. The geological history is such that it doesn’t have a lot of merchantable coal, so Pine Mountain’s vast number of rare and unique species haven’t been disturbed. Kentucky has 700 rare species and 1/10th of them are found on Pine Mountain. One is the endemic Icebox Cave Beetle, which only lives in  one cave in the Narrows Preserve and nowhere else on Earth.

High Rock, KNLT Artists’ Retreat ~ photo by Greg Abernathy, KNLT

In addition to Pine Mountain, KNLT also works in central Kentucky with Bernheim Forest on the Bernheim-Fort Knox Wildlands Corridor, a vital migratory habitat which ideally will include a protected one mile buffer zone around the Fort Knox army post, leveraged as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Army Compatible Use Buffer Program.

American black bear ~ photo by Marc Evans, KNLT

“When you think about the region that we’re working in in Eastern Kentucky, it’s a region that historically has been taken advantage of by outsiders, so there is a lot of cautious agreement to engage with you because, though we are offering fair market value for what the land will appraise for, at the end of the day, people are wondering if there is some value in this land that you know that they don’t know about. We’re buying and protecting some of the most biologically diverse land in the state for a very reasonable rate.” – Greg Abernathy

Land conservation work is definitely the long game. In 2017, KNLT closed a land deal for 2000 acres in Letcher and Harlan County that took 18 years to complete. These lands fill in the gaps between Kingdom Come State Park and the Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Once lands are acquired, KNLT has two stewardship staff members who focus on conservation stewardship objectives to protect their conservation investments, which include eradicating invasive species and preserving Kentucky’s natural heritage. This recently acquired land also ties into the multi-state Great Eastern Trail, which has been unfolding across the eastern U.S. for the last 15 years and covers 1600 miles from southern New York to Alabama.

KNLT pays their staff and funds acquisitions with a combination of private dollars and funds raised through foundations. KNLT is the first Kentucky partner to team up with the Forecastle Foundation, the non-profit wing of Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, and often partners with Louisville’s Snowy Owl Foundation to promote their conservation work and underwrite events.

KNLT’s new Executive Director, Greg Abernathy, is a graduate of the first class of the University of Kentucky’s Natural Resource Conservation major. Abernathy first heard about Blanton Forest off-season on a WYSO radio program in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Years later, Abernathy found out that the preservation of the forest was due to KNLT’s efforts. While working with Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development (MACED) in 2000, Abernathy started working with the KNLT staff on projects and, naturally, they joined forces. He joined KNLT as the fourth staff member about five years ago and they have since added two more employees.

“Through the artists, we hope we can spread that love of place, love of land, and it is really an extension of Wendell Berry’s love of place, and pride of place, and connection to place. We hope through the artists’ retreats that we can create that in the artists and, through their circles, ripple their exposure and understanding of it out to a larger population, to bring people more awareness of it. We’d love to bring you down to the mountain.” – Greg Abernathy

In 2008, KNLT hosted an event in Lexington called the Tsuga Art Show, which featured performances from Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Chris Sullivan, and Warren Byrom, all to raise awareness of the invasive Hemlock Woody Adelgid insect. After the event, Abernathy spoke with University of Kentucky English professor, Erik Reece, who reminded him of the writers retreats that Kentuckians For The Commonwealth used to host in the mountains.

KNLT teamed up with Reece and Transylvania University art professor, Zoe Strecker, to organize a series of retreats for artists to come down to Pine Mountain Settlement School for the weekend and have an immersive experience with KNLT in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. 2017 was the third year that KNLT invited a group down and the more than 100 attendees have come to be known as The Pine Mountain Collective. This kinship of artists have already produced extensive work together including collective art shows in Lexington and Louisville and songs about the mountain, many of which have been written and recorded for an upcoming compilation being assembled by Louisville’s Daniel Martin Moore, featuring recordings from Wendell Berry, Warren Byrom, Joan Shelley, Jim James, and a slew of others.

KNLT Artists’ Retreat, Pine Mountain ~ photo by John Lackey

In addition to the retreats and acquisitions, KNLT partners with The Explore Kentucky Initiative to create community hikes around Kentucky’s wild spaces and also hosts Wildlands Social Club events that bounce between 21C Museum Hotels in Lexington and Louisville as well as West Sixth Brewing. The events highlight ten-minute talks about why wild places are important from an art, health, economy, and conservation science perspective. In the spring, 21C Cincinnati will be hosting a Wildlands Social Club event.  If you want to know more, you can visit their website at knlt.org.

Listen to Chuck Clenney’s interview with Greg Abernathy of KNLT.

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Distracted Healers

Scores of doctors serving patients across Kentucky are from the six Muslim-majority countries under President Trump’s revised temporary travel ban. Those doctors, many of them in underserved rural areas, provide over 100,000 appointments in a year. Across the U.S. there are about 7,000 practicing doctors from those six countries.

These statistics come from a recent study by Harvard and MIT research economists. Their work also found that a large proportion of these doctors are cardiologists and neurologists, specialists much in demand because of the immediate attention required to treat people with heart attacks and brain injuries.

Article-Doctor-Shortages

An estimated 25 percent of all physicians working in the U.S. are foreign born, according to the American Medical Association. Some are immigrants, and some are non-immigrants who received their medical training in the U.S. and are here temporarily with special visas. Many of these doctors are working in underserved communities providing treatments for patients’ needs that would otherwise go unmet – unmet because of an ongoing shortage of doctors.

The Association of American Medical Colleges in March released its updated study projecting a shortage of doctors in the U.S. that could reach as high as 104,900 by the year 2030. That breaks down into shortfalls of up to 43,100 primary care physicians and up to 61,800 specialty physicians.

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The shortage of doctors is a longstanding one. In 1994 Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota introduced a bill that has evolved into the Conrad 30 Program, which allows foreign-born doctors who received their medical training in the U.S. to apply for temporary visas to practice here in exchange for a commitment to work full-time for three years at a medical facility in a designated underserved area.

In early March, the White House rolled out a revised anti-Muslim travel ban which was immediately blocked on constitutional grounds by federal courts, the same fate of its predecessor. But the administration’s intent has been made clear, prompting The American Medical Association to write to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “The AMA is concerned,” stated the letter, “that this executive order is negatively impacting patient access to care and creating unintended consequences for our nation’s health care system. Specifically, there are reports indicating that this executive order is affecting both current and future physicians as well as medical students and residents who are providing much needed care to some of our most vulnerable patients.”

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Further complicating the situation, as reported in the New York Times, the government has altered processing rules for H-1B Visas. The temporary H-1B Visa allows highly skilled foreign workers to join the U.S. workforce. The majority of these visas have been used for high-technology and engineering enterprises, and that use has been mired in controversy with claims that qualified U.S. workers in some cases have been displaced by cheaper foreign workers. Doctors from foreign countries who have received their medical training in the U.S. also require the H-1B Visa to work here. Starting on April 3rd, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is suspending for up to six months the expedited processing for the H-1B Visas, which, for a fee, could have the visa approved usually within a couple of weeks, otherwise the process can take months. Medical facilities that rely on expedited visas to fill doctor vacancies will be left without critical services for an uncertain period of time.

The atmosphere encouraged by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration certainly is having negative impacts. Consider that there are near 50,000 Indian physicians practicing medicine in the U.S. providing hundreds of thousands of medical appointments and treatments for patients. On February 22nd, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian engineer, was shot and killed and his fellow Indian friend wounded at a bar in Kansas. The shooter, it’s reported, mistook them for Iranians. He shouted at them to get out of his country and fired on them. This incident shocked U.S. Indian communities and reverberated in the media of India. It’s impossible to discern how far reaching the negative impacts will be in the future. Is enrollment of foreign students at medical schools dropping and will less foreign doctors trained in the U.S. opt to practice medicine in the U.S. for underserved communities?

Photo credit: Baltimore Times

Photo credit: Baltimore Times

There are no medical school enrollment figures available for this piece. A spokesperson for the University of Kentucky Medical School wrote that it’s “too early to tell about any impact on College of Medicine recruitment. While we have a few international students enrolled in medical school, the majority are Kentucky residents.” What is known at this time is that some engineering schools are experiencing sharp declines in international applications, this according to the publication Science. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst has seen a 30 percent decline from the 2016 level of international applications for electrical and computer engineering programs. Vanderbuilt University in Nashville reports an 18percent decline in its international applications for the graduate level engineering department.

“University administrators worry,” reports Science, “that the declines…reflect heightened fears among foreign-born students that the United States is tightening its borders. A continued downturn, officials say, could threaten U.S. Global leadership in science and engineering by shrinking the pool of talent available to carry out academic research. It could also hinder innovation in industry, given that most foreign-born engineering students take jobs with U.S. companies after graduation.”

Such reports from other sectors may reflect as yet undiscerned trends in the medical world. There’s great risk here given our dependence on foreign doctors to help provide medical services to vulnerable and underserved populations in the U.S.

Related links:

What Immigrant Doctors Bring to America

Trump Travel Ban Spotlights U.S. Dependence On Foreign-Born Doctors

Rural Areas Brace for a Shortage of Doctors Due to Visa Policy

Physician Supply and Demand Through 2025

Will Trump’s Ban Cause Foreign-Born Doctors to Look Elsewhere?

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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. 

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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!

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The Longest Walk

The search for answers to some of life’s more extraordinary difficulties can sometimes require extraordinary effort. Drug abuse and domestic violence, for example. A recent study focusing on Native American youth reveals alarming substance use patterns beginning much earlier in life than is typical for other Americans.

American Indian kids suffer from disproportionately high rates of abuse and neglect, and most of them aren’t receiving any treatment for those issues. They experience post-traumatic stress disorder at roughly the same rate as service members returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And they’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24.

The second of three historic walks across the country organized by the American Indian Movement in search of solutions to drug abuse and domestic violence is winding its way toward Kentucky. “The Longest Walk 5.2” began on Feb 12 in San Francisco and is following a central route through the states, ending in Washington D.C. on July 15. The walkers are scheduled to arrive in the Kentucky state capitol in mid-June.

During their five-month trek, the runners and walkers are crossing 18 mountain ranges and visiting 54 tribal communities on a 153-day spiritual journey. Along the way the group is collecting data and testimonies from community members in order to understand how these issues are affecting them, to help inspire change, and to find spiritual and cultural solutions.

The study, conducted for the National Institutes of Heath, found substance abuse rates among Native American students to be significantly higher than national rates for nearly all substances, especially for 8th graders. Rates of marijuana use were very high, with lifetime use higher than 50 percent for all grade groups. Other findings include higher binge drinking rates and OxyContin abuse. “Given the high rates of substance use-related problems on reservations, such as academic failure, delinquency, violent criminal behavior, suicidality, and alcohol-related mortality,” the study concluded, “the costs to members of this population and to society will continue to be much too high until a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of substance use are established.”

Native Americans also are at a significantly higher risk for domestic violence than other segments of the population. According to research conducted for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “some 84 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than half have endured this violence at the hands of an intimate partner. More than two-thirds of the women, or 66 percent, say they have been the victims of psychological aggression by a partner.”

To put it in perspective, roughly 35 percent of women and 28 percent of men in the general population of the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the NIJ.

The majority of these cases of abuse—nearly 97 percent—have been committed by non-Native individuals, notes the study summary. Prior to the 2013 passage of an expanded version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, tribal courts in the 566 federally-recognized Native American tribal lands across the country did not have jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators. This meant these non-Native offenders were essentially granted immunity for their crimes. Now, if women on those reservations report an assault perpetrated by a non-Indian, the tribe’s police chief will have more recourse to go after that perpetrator.

The walkers are scheduled to arrive in Frankfort on June 19 with a special ceremony on the capitol steps set for 10 a.m. on the following morning. The event is hosted and organized locally by David Thundering Eagle Fallis of Frankfort. 

David Thundering Eagle Fallis

Speakers will include representation from the Governor’s Office, The Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission, representatives of the Longest Walk, Mayor Bill May, Chief of Police Jeff Abrams, Longest Walk Mid-West Coordinator Mike Pathseeker Bochting, and David Thundering Eagle Fallis. Opening and closing music will be performed by People of the Star Ensemble.

The People of the Star Ensemble is comprised of regional musical artists. Our music explores the myriad possibilities of earth music and, influenced by jazz, classical and funk, forms innovative indigenous music.

The core of the group is Paul M. Osborne of Cherokee heritage. He is well known in the region for his excellence on the saxophone and flute in the jazz genre and also is a superb vocalist. A keyboardist, I cofounded People of the Star. I’ve been composing, collaborating and recording with Native American artists for some twenty years in the Chicago area where I also composed music for public television programming.  

Paul Osborne

Palmer Tolly

Joining us in performance at this very special event on the morning of June 20 will be Dan Ward, Choctaw, on Native flutes and percussion instruments. Ward is an accomplished flute maker (Running Wolf Flutes and Instruments).   On bass will be Robert Trott.

Dan Ward

Robert Trott

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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

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An Experiment in Love

The way of nonviolent resistance … is ultimately the way of the strong man. It is not a method of stagnant passivity… For while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and his emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Six Pillars of Non-Violent Resistance and the ancient Greek notion of ‘Agape’

The full story from Brainpickings

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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.”

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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.

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Hey, Big Announcement From UnderMain!

UnderMain is now a 501(c)(3)!

That means your donations to UnderMain are tax deductible.

Every donation will help us do more.

Every donation will help us provide more coverage of arts and culture in Lexington and the region.

Every donation will help us do more in-depth pieces about the issues you care about.

Every donation will help us provide more opportunities for local creative talent to play in our digital sandbox.

And remember, we are ad-free and we pay for all content.

So donate today, donate regularly, and help us be more.

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More Context

John Hunt Morgan, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, is safe in his construction cocoon. Protected from debris and damage during the much-anticipated renovation of Lexington’s historic courthouse, the statue of Morgan was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911, during the dark century of continued subjugation in the South of freed slaves and their descendants following the Civil War. The Morgan statue will greet visitors to the courthouse’s main entrance upon completion of the renovation.

The Morgan memorial, and its companion statue in the courthouse plaza, erected in 1887, of John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President of the United States, slave owner, defender of secession, Confederate general, and the last Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America, create an heroic tableau that some have called “history”.

The statues were erected in the public square, on a block which was, in the first-half of the nineteenth century, the site of major slave auctions, and marked in recent times by a small, lonely plaque.

slaves00

At the end of a summer riven by blood, outrage, fear, and protest, is it still important to talk about some statues?

The conversation about Lexington’s courthouse statues, begun after the massacre at “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, continued last fall. Mayor Jim Gray charged the Urban County Arts Review Board (UCARB) to make recommendations concerning the future of the statues, highlighting the need to reflect “shared values”, diversity, and inclusiveness.

The Board studied the issues exhaustively, heard testimony from experts and the public, and encouraged submission of letters of opinion from the general public. They received many more letters in support of retaining the statues in their locations in the courthouse square. Nevertheless, in November the Board recommended that the statues of Morgan and Breckinridge be moved from the courthouse block to other publicly accessible, appropriate places.

At the meeting where this and other recommendations were made, the UCARB members looked on incredulously as, at the eleventh hour, city officials informed them that removal of the statues might very well jeopardize the federal historic tax credits that were a vital part of the financing of the courthouse renovation. The extensiveness of discussions with federal historic preservation officials concerning this issue has never been publicly disclosed.

After the November UCARB meeting the public conversation about the statues went into a deep sleep.

In mid-February of this year, Chris Corcoran, an advisor to Mayor Gray, announced that the Mayor had decided to keep the statues in place, telling the Arts Review Board:

“The mayor’s intent is to keep those statutes where they are and provide more context,” (italics are mine) Corcoran said. “We are not pursuing moving the statues.”

Conversation over.

They say that history is written by the victors, and all across the South in the decades after the Civil War the believers in “The Lost Cause” retained the symbols of the Confederacy and valorized its heroes. It was a victory after defeat and a message of warning to those who would try to upend the renewed and revived architecture of domination and subjugation. The new heroes, inheritors of the mantle, were men in white robes, police officers with dogs and billy clubs, and governors standing in schoolhouse doors.

So what would be more context for our statues, presiding in place in our public square?

Perhaps this:

The statues of Morgan and Breckinridge stand as testament that history can be warped and defiled. That a gauzy cover can be applied to it to encourage a recasting of the true history of a vile cause. That a history of a place, our public square, the site of untold suffering in the decades before the Civil War, can be nearly erased. These statues are not “history”, they only mark the attempts by people in history to rework history. Mark this; the statues were erected not just to memorialize heroes of “The Lost Cause” but to serve as a warning to those who would attempt to impede that revision of history and challenge its contemporary malevolent regime.

Not enough more context?

The men valorized by these statues were inhabited by an evil and degrading ideology. An ideology of racial superiority in service of a system that required centuries of enslavement of other human beings. So, Africans stolen from their homelands and their descendants, were subjected to the most cruel and inhumane conditions, treated and tortured as beast of burdens, and bought and sold as property of others on this very spot. These slaves were instrumental in building the early America.

The fever of this racist malignant ideology and system was only stanched by a most bloody and wrenching civil war. It still remains to be fully extinguished. Slavery in the United States takes its place amongst the most horrific and prolonged injustices and acts in humanity’s known history. It is the cause for which Morgan fought and died and Breckinridge avidly served. This is the true history to be remembered in this place amongst these statues.

We whitewash or forget this truth at our peril.

But perhaps the most appropriate more context, would be this image, suggested in a conversation with UK Art Museum Director, Stuart Horodner, and projected large throughout the courthouse plaza:

ali

For another response to the courthouse statues see Tom Martin’s UnderMain piece about Kurt Godhe and Kremena Todorova’s latest community engagement art project, Unlearn Fear+Hate.

Slave auction announcement image courtesy of University of Kentucky

Ali-Morgan image courtesy of Chris Rosenthal 

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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.

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…

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UnderMain articles by Tom Martin:

Post Truth or Post Trust?

In Search of Another Way

Friendship in Troubling Times

The Wedding Day Kiss

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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.

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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
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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)

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“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

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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.

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“A true friend stabs you in the front.”

— Oscar Wilde

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From The Huffington Post

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

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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.

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“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

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

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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.

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Water Spurts

A just-published report by the folks at Food & Water Watch found in a survey of water rates of the 500 largest community water systems that “large for-profit, privately-owned systems charged 58 percent more than large publicly owned systems.”

But there are exceptions and one, in particular, is an eye-opener.

Perhaps the most astounding finding in the report is that the publicly-owned water system in Flint, Michigan – which the state-appointed emergency city manager switched to drawing polluted acidic water from the Flint River to save money in line with the edict to “run government more like a business,” charged the highest rates of all the systems surveyed. That’s right, the poisoned water that residents of Flint were drinking which contained toxic levels of lead and other metals that had leached from pipes due to the acidic river water, cost residents more than water provided by any other large municipal system in the country. The malfeasance, negligence, and utter disregard of Michigan officials, who stonewalled and denied the problems with Flint water for months, keeps magnifying.

In this survey there is some interesting information for us here in Lexington.

The data indicate that the rates charged by Kentucky-American Water, a private for-profit company serving Lexington and other smaller communities in the region, and which recently filed an application for a rate increase, has the 69th highest rates among the 500 water systems surveyed. This is in contrast to the publicly-owned Louisville Water Company, which has a rank of 308 in the survey and whose annual bill rates are 60% of those charged by Kentucky-American.

Something to drink about?

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Lexington Philanthropist Makes Huge Gift to Facebook

In an unprecedented act of generosity during the season of giving, Lexington philanthropist and artist Dmitry “Dima” Strakovsky, announced that he is gifting his valuable digital art property, facebookportrait.com, to the Facebook corporation. The property, which according to its latest valuation is worth between $11.39 and $1.28 billion, uses Facebook images and likes that a user posts on the site to create a self-portrait of fast-changing images.

In a letter posted on a website, addressed to “Ethel”, whose identity UnderMain is unable to confirm, Strakovsky acknowledges that Facebook has raised a trademark claim and requested/demanded that he cease using facebookportrait.com. Perhaps inspired by the recent record-shattering gift of Facebook stock worth $45 billion by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Strakovsky gave the corporation outright ownership of the contested domain, no strings attached.

In the letter, Strakovsky makes clear his intent to provide Facebook with an unrestricted and inspired gift:

Facebook is an entity that has the unenviable responsibility to satisfy and control billions of individual desires through a host of services, both monetized and otherwise. An immense part of the public communications sector is impacted by its every decision. This must be a lonely and difficult task. I hope to bring a moment of happiness and respite to your employer, and it is my sincerest hope that Facebook, Inc., will enjoy this GIFT.

UnderMain will be following this story closely and hopes to have Mr. Strakovsky address the issues raised by his gift in a future post.

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The Living Building Challenge: Visionary from the Start

Designers and builders have long looked to rating systems for “how-to” guidance on green building. From the early days of the current environmental movement they were intended to serve as recipes for improved performance and environmental stewardship. Looking back at the earliest iterations we see a snapshot in time that describes a tension between our desire to improve and the relentless influence of market forces.

Variations in the early standards were a reflection of their author’s priorities. Some were heavily influenced by corporate interests who professed a commitment to sound environmental practices – until it impacted their bottom line. Some positioned themselves just ahead of the marketplace in a mission to gently lead economic transformation while others, in recognition of a rising carbon count, ignored economic constraints and advocated for a leap beyond sustainability toward a regenerative approach. After all, describing a marriage as merely “sustainable” would not be high praise. Perceived as too expensive these standards were mostly ignored.

Though they all sought popular embrace it was, of course, impossible for one standard to provide universal satisfaction. After all, much of the construction industry held fast to the notion that a market economy is America’s only true core value.

As the aughts became the teens the plight of the polar ice caps entered mainstream consciousness, catastrophic weather patterns became increasingly commonplace, and our complicity in climate change more widely accepted. Jurisdictions around the country began to embrace legislation requiring credible compliance, building codes were rewritten to reflect increased urgency, and an army of skeptics (from architects and engineers to general contractors and their subs) had no choice but to hook up to the bandwagon. Even reluctant manufacturers began to recognize the value in environmental branding and compliant materials became increasingly affordable. The marketplace was transforming.

Rating systems, too, evolved to reflect this new economic paradigm and while consensus remains a distant target it is safe to say that they are becoming increasingly alike. They are, in fact, learning from and moving toward the most ambitious and visionary standard, the one that never allowed economic forces to dictate: the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Launched in 2006 the uncompromising principles described by the LBC attract the curiosity of the others with a gravitational pull commensurate to the ever-widening recognition that we have run out of time to simply reduce our environmental impact. In fact, the extent of our past misdeeds demand that we must, as quickly as possible, learn how to build environments that surpass sustainability by replenishing and recharging our resources. Anything less would be like approving spousal abuse as long as it is “occasional”.

Utilizing the metaphor of a flower the LBC posits that buildings should, like flowers, be rooted in place, harvest all of their energy and water on site, be entirely pollution free, and support the larger community through equity and inspiration. These are principles that were inconceivable to the earliest rating system authors and, yet, they represent a target that has been certifiably attained by 25 industry leaders with many more closing in.

Organized by seven “Petals” and 20 subset “Imperatives” the LBC standard further expands the definition of minimum requirement by going beyond the usual standards. It insists that our built environment should

  1. Give Back. Net positive water, energy and waste means that these buildings are providing energy and water for others and putting waste back into productive use.
  2. Reconnect. Biophilic design principles seek to right a long standing imbalance  by encouraging daily connection with nature. We spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. Even our neighbor’s access to nature cannot be impeded.
  3. Inspire. Recognizing the value of both sides of the brain the standard encourages an embrace of design elements solely for human delight – alongside the analytics that ensure efficient performance.
  4. Respect. By creating built environments that uphold the dignity of all members of society regardless of their physical or economic capacity the LBC aims to harness the power of transparency as a force for social change. Some LBC programs worthy of further exploration: the JUST Program for social justice, the DECLARE Label for chemical toxin transparency and the new Equitable Offset Program which accumulates funds to provide renewable energy infrastructure for charitable enterprises.

Beyond continued advocacy one can only give thanks to visionaries like co-creator Jason McLennan who chose to see beyond the allure of the almighty dollar and to believe that humanity can, if so informed, live in a “socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative” manner. While this is clearly easier said than done, the way is being paved and the rest of us must simply face the right direction and place one foot in front of the other.

You can reach Clive Pohl at clive@pohlrosapohl.com

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Cheapside Statues: An Opinion

Editor’s Note: The Urban County Government Art Review Board (UCARB) has held several special meetings to consider the status of the statues of John Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan in Cheapside Park. UnderMain has published a number of pieces about this issue since the Charleston church shootings in June. The UCARB is now in the process of developing its recommendations to Mayor Gray, to be presented in November. The following opinion piece, intended as a statement to the UCARB, is by Van Meter Pettit, a local architect. Input into this issue may be submitted directly to the office of Mayor Gray at mayor@lexingtonky.gov or by calling 859 258-3100.

I am writing to recommend that Lexington consider carefully relocating the bronze Confederate monuments currently located in Cheapside Park. This is not meant, as some have alleged, to erase or destroy history. On the contrary, it is to recognize more appropriately a buried history that deserves to be honored in this unique location where it took place.

The bronze figures of Breckinridge and Morgan have no specific tie to this precise location except for the fact that they were located there a long time ago. Morgan could be more appropriately located near the house museum where he lived. Breckinridge or Morgan could be more appropriately recognized in the Lexington Cemetery because it is where their bodies are buried. Since Henry Clay and countless war dead are located there it would in no way be disrespectful to relocate these landmarks there. They would be in good company.

Why go to the trouble of moving landmarks that have stood in this public space for a century or more? Because for 150 years our guardians of history have had that chance to tell the story of slavery and racial violence that was ritually and publicly conducted in this civic space but have failed to do so. It is time to clear this ground of pro-slavery landmarks installed during an era of racial oppression and terror in order to convey a very significant history that is tied specifically to this place. Confederate monuments and the Civil War have no specific claim on this ground. They actually serve to obstruct an important story that has yet to be properly honored.

What appears to be wholly missing from the community conversation about Cheapside is its unique history as a public square. In addition to serving as a marketplace and a seat of justice and public administration, it is also a place where more African American slaves were sold than any other place in the state1. Men, women, and children were sold in the thousands like livestock and split from all known family and relations. It was legal, it was commonplace, and it made many white families in Kentucky very rich. There is a building on Upper Street that still has evidence of basement pens used to hold slaves awaiting sale.

From eyewitness accounts as early as 1816, the courthouse square was used regularly as a place to whip slaves who were guilty of an infraction as benign as missing a curfew. It was a public spectacle that regularly drew crowds even when the town was very small2. For nearly a century these ritual beatings were a form of social and political entertainment. Less frequently, but yet repeatedly, this site also hosted lynchings, where blacks accused of a crime could be killed without trial or legal recourse.

During the era when former Confederates dominated state and local politics3, men who registered black Lexingtonians to vote could be murdered in front of numerous witnesses without the perpetrators being brought to justice4. From a high of nearly 50% in 1900, the population of African-Americans in Lexington quickly dropped to below 15%. Unrestrained night raids by vigilantes against black residents were an obvious motivation for black Lexingtonians to migrate away.

This post-confederate ‘Birth of a Nation’ style reign of terror made famous by D.W. Griffith’s grotesque heroic depiction did not end until a 1920 race riot of several thousand that led to six deaths and scores of injured. A mob stormed the courthouse where a black man was being tried for murder. They intended to beat him and hang him rather than allow him to stand trail. Kentucky Governor Edwin Morrow called in federal troops to maintain order5. This event happened after both bronze statues were installed. This is the political environment in which they were created and sited.

Thousands of humans sold as slaves, hundreds of the enslaved brutally and publicly lashed, and an untold number of before and after the Civil War publicly lynched… and we have only a state highway marker that has been vandalized. Almost no one knows this history of our oldest public square. Instead we are discussing pro-slavery bronze figures that as historical figures are footnotes outside of Lexington.

John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan were both elite Confederate generals who chose treason against the nation in order to defend and protect the institution of slavery, something Ken Burns refers to as “America’s original sin”. These monuments need to be recognized as a statement of cultural and political defiance against the outcome of the Civil War and the subsequent elevation of African-Americans to a status of full citizenship. Kentucky failed to ratify the 13th (abolishing slavery), 14th (citizenship to former slaves, equal protection under the law) and 15th (right to vote) Amendments to the U.S. Constitution until 1976. Kentucky elected former Confederates or their sympathizers to political leadership for decades after the Civil War.

These statues must be evaluated based upon the context of the politics and public discourse of their time. Their creation and placement were political and philosophical acts that have not lost their original meaning. To suggest that they no longer possess a very toxic cultural baggage would be willfully naive.

These landmarks hold a similar cultural message as the statue of Jefferson Davis that stands in the state capitol. Seventy-two university historians agree that the Davis monument should be relocated away from the Capitol Rotunda because, “The statue’s presence in the Capitol rotunda ‘minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions and endows the Southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve’, said a letter signed and sent to state lawmakers by the current and former historians6.”

In my opinion the Cheapside pro-slavery artifacts share a message that willfully and intentionally obscures the blight of slavery in our history in favor of a fictionalized ‘nobility’ born of victim status from northern aggression. That the pro-slavery Cheapside monuments stand in a place where slaves were brutally and publicly whipped, murdered and sold away from loved ones makes them all the more impossible to ignore or absolve.

These landmarks can be understood as the defiant and unrepentant gestures of a former slave-owning elite who dominated the politics and economics of Kentucky during this period. White supremacy and nostalgia for the slavery era is their shared context. I sincerely believe that to allow these to remain in places of honor is to endorse the messages they were made to convey.

If we fail to act in this pivotal moment we will send a message that we are still culturally unreflective of the gravity of our past and that the slave-holding old guard still have our implicit respect and tacit blessing.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.


1 Cheapside Slave Auction Block By Tim Talbot from explorekyhistory.ky.gov

2 An 1816 account of Lexington recorded by Samuel R. Brown and recounted by J. Winston Coleman, Jr. in Six sketches of Kentucky, published by the Henry Clay Press

3 How Kentucky Became a Confederate State, by Christopher Phillips New York Times, May 22, 2015

4 Kentucky Historian George C. Wright in his book, Racial violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940 : lynchings, mob rule, and “legal lynchings” at least 353 lynchings took place in Kentucky up to 1940. A majority of the victims were African American men.

5 History of Governor Edwin P. Morrow from Wikipedia

6 72 history professors sign letter urging removal of Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky Capitol Lexington Herald-Leader by Jack Brammer jbrammer@herald-leader.com, August 31, 2015

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Cheapside: A Call to Action

Hey! Remember the issue of those statues in Cheapside Park and the near-forgetting of its history as a major slave auction site? Admittedly, after the Summer of Trump it’s difficult to get back to the business at hand. Trump’s dog-whistling about immigration and political correctness reminds us that demagoguery and prejudice come in a multitude of flavors, and provides an apt segue to resumption of the community’s conversation about Cheapside.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Arts Review Board (UCARB) will be conducting its public forum meeting on Monday, September 21, at 6PM in the Council Chambers. Members of the public will be invited to offer their thoughts to the Board at that meeting. Word is that the great majority of opinions that have been received at City Hall to date have been in favor of retaining the statues at Cheapside. At the meeting of the UCARB on September 16, a panel of consultants were fairly evenly split on the issue of whether to remove or retain the statues in Cheapside.

If you care about this issue make your voice heard at the public forum or through communications to your city council member or the mayor.

You can also send UnderMain, using the form below, your ideas for a re-envisioned Cheapside, where the truthful story of that place is revealed.

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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.

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Of Levees, Lagniappe and Lexington

Full disclosure: I am a New Orleanian. No matter where I live, or how long I live there, I will always call New Orleans home.  I know how to pronounce Tchoupitoulas, am still confused why bars don’t offer to-go cups and can make a roux with my eyes closed. 

I go to Domilise’s for my po-boys and the Spotted Cat for my jazz.  When I was a teenager, I used to sit on the Mississippi riverbank, elephants and monkeys waking up at the Audubon Zoo a few feet behind me, watching the barges and driftwood compete for current.

When I was a little girl, we’d go to the French Quarter to eat souffléd potatoes and grits and grillades.  When we walked into a restaurant, my mom always asked the waiter for an extra tablecloth to wrap around me because air conditioning is its own element in New Orleans. 

My best friend and I would sneak out and take the streetcar down to Jackson Square when it was a full moon and have our fortunes read at midnight.  We paid for it with our babysitting money.

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I never made a plan past what are we eating for dinner?  New Orleans doesn’t require a plan.  In fact, it’s probably best enjoyed without one – which is only a problem when a Hurricane is threatening to demolish the city.  And when the infrastructure  fails and the city marinates in its own filth, not having a plan is a catastrophe.  That is where we are today, 10 years later … picking up the pieces from that catastrophe. 

After Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast, the levees burst and many thousands were left stranded, either literally or in limbo. 

The Superdome became a breeding ground for all things horrific, and it was valuable real estate. To give you some perspective, when the dome reached maximum occupancy, people were shuffled to the nearby Convention Center.  John Burnett, an NPR reporter was there, and gave this stark summary of the Government’s epic failure:

“They couldn’t send them to the Superdome, which was already overcrowded and squalid. Yet more and more people were emerging wet and bewildered from their flooded neighborhoods with nowhere to go. Officials later estimated that 25,000 people were huddled inside the vast convention center — the length of four city blocks — and on the sidewalk. Day after day they waited for buses, but no one came. The fiasco at the convention center came to epitomize the disorganized, inadequate response to the disaster by local, state and federal officials.”

The disaster Burnett described, playing out in a structure that only days prior had hosted Wheel of Fortune, is best understood through imagery.

Katrina was a trauma when it happened, and remains a lingering trauma today.

Walk into any bar on Frenchman Street now and you will hear the sultry, bluesy sounds of poets and showmen weaving the storm into their lyrics.

Like gumbo, Mardi Gras beads in the Oak trees, streetcars and potholes, Katrina has become a part of the fabric of the city.  It remains one of those divisive events that slices through a life, separating it into two categories: pre and post. 

It was a category 3 storm. The death toll was over 1800, making it the third deadliest Hurricane in history.  The third deadliest, yes … but it tops the list in cost: over $100 billion. These numbers do not take into account the many who had no choice but to flee the city, their lives forever altered.

Now, a decade later, the dislocated are hearing appeals to return, with promises of a new land.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech in Houston and while he was thanking the Texas city for providing refuge for the displaced, he summed up a sentiment about the Big Easy that anyone whos spent time there can agree with:

“We don’t talk the way anybody else talks, we don’t dance the way anybody else dances. [Others] don’t eat the way we eat, they don’t hug the way we hug, and they don’t love the way we love. It’s just different. And it’s wonderful.”

Tens of thousands of New Orleanians escaped the storm. Most settled in Houston. Many have returned, but many others have relocated, resettled and are trying to move on with their lives.

Wayne Lewis is one of those people. He and his wife sought shelter in Austin, TX, Raleigh, NC and eventually landed in Lexington Ky, although he admits that he will always call New Orleans home.  Wayne is many things; a new father, a husband, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky, an education reformer, and a passionate musician – to name a few. 

We caught up with each other in a dimly lit bar in downtown Lexington.  Boisterous, serious and lit from within, Wayne immediately captured my attention.  Had I not known he was from New Orleans, I would’ve assumed as much, which is the best compliment I can think of. 

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Before we talked, he pulled out his saxophone and took a few requests from his captive audience. As the honey poured out from his golden horn, my feet instinctively started moving. Mayor Landrieu is right, we dance differently.  The sound that is created by a New Orleans jazz musician is raw, sweaty, alive and gets right on into your blood. In fact, it’s possible that the first note of When The Saints Go Marching In has an invisible thread tied to your big toe; making it impossible not to dance.

That was the scene in Willie’s Locally Known at 10:00am on a Tuesday morning in Kentucky: two New Orleanians lost in the music, talking about the lagniappe of our lives. 

Wayne is above all else, a man of faith.  When he looked back, he attributes his faith as the saving grace through it all.

“I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’”

I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’

Not some things … EVERY thing. 

“But you know what Lillie, we laughed about it,” he recalled.  “We laughed.  Not once throughout the whole thing did we feel hopeless.  It was just understood that God was going to take care of us.  And he did.”

He went on to tell me about how the storm changed his perspective about life in general. 

“When you lose everything and realize that you’re ok, that you’re still the man you were before, maybe even stronger … when you know that in your heart, then you can really see what living is all about.”

saxBWSo, what does living look like for Dr. Lewis these days? Well, for one thing, he plays his sax as often as he can, which admittedly, is not often enough. 

Currently, he plays in a band called The City. One of their songs, The Levee, composed by lead vocalist/guitarist Gene Woods and featuring a solo by Wayne, is a message of solidarity with those left behind in Katrina’s awful aftermath. The song is haunting in its contradiction and counterpoint: a traditional, upbeat N’awlins second line rhythm that defiantly marches the barely concealed pain and heartbreak of abandonment through the sodden streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, past a preacher shouting from atop the ruins: “Hold the line! Don’t you succumb! You gotta find the will. To carry on.”  Sad and honest, mysterious and revealing; it tells the tale of New Orleans after the levees broke. 

Like Wayne, like New Orleans, like many of us, the profound injustice and sadness is disguised behind a facade of determined joy.

The Levee is an appropriately sad song.  Katrina caused immeasurable sadness in the souls of many. She wreaked havoc on the bayous and flooded the streets with hate and anger. 

But in the end, The Levee is a song … because that’s what New Orleanians do. We deal with the heartbreak by making beats, beans and boudin.  We dance when we’re up, we dance when we’re down.  We let the music explain us and guide us.  It guides us to the food most of the time, where we are the happiest, eating lunch and talking about dinner.

What can you do to help New Orleans today?

Go there. Experience it for yourself.  Eat.  Dance.  Fall in love and spend your money on an experience that will change you forever.  Feel alive. Feel it all.  Let your sunglasses fog up when you walk outside and embrace it as the city’s way of crying for you. Cry on your own.  The river will take it.  In the words of Rebirth Brass Band, just “Do whacha wanna do …” and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler.

If you need recommendations (which you don’t btw), Wayne Lewis is happy to give them to you.

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Racial Divide Creates Convenient Amnesia

The Chinese Whispers Game. Broken Telephone. It goes by many names, but you know the one: you tell the person sitting next to you a secret, then they tell it to the person next to them, and so on until it gets back to you. And more likely than not, the message has been misinterpreted, massaged and mangled until it no longer resembles anything close to the original.

After reading Anne E. Marshall’s “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” (2010 The University of North Carolina Press), the only logical explanation I could come to was that Kentucky’s Civil War history had fallen victim to the antics of this prepubescent game.

But that would be an easy out because the historical facts that Marshall brings to light could not be more clear. Kentucky, the so-called Switzerland of the Civil War, planted its flag of neutrality. Yet like most other states, Kentuckians had predetermined their allegiance. Some were Confederate supporters, others were ready to don the blue of the Unionists. But take a look at Kentucky’s historical afterward, and what you would infer is that Kentucky fervently championed the Confederacy.

And it all comes down to one reason: race.

Blue, Gray & Black

Marshall filters all of Kentucky’s Civil War history through a sieve of scrutiny. There are few presumptions or inferences, which is really what makes Kentucky’s future Confederate affinity so bewildering.

In the introduction, Marshall writes: “Union memory in Kentucky became too closely associated with emancipation and African American progress for white Unionists to accept it as their own.”

And there it is. Many Kentucky whites fell on that side of the war because they felt the Union was more apt to support their political and business ideals … and one of those businesses was slavery. The way the state legislature pitched it to Kentuckians was that their Unionist loyalty would actually insure their rights to own slaves. (Obviously, this was before Abraham Lincoln introduced the first version of the Emancipation Proclamation; emancipation was not one of the original catalysts of the war.)

Then when northern abolitionists took it upon themselves to liberate slaves, Kentucky whites saw the writing on the wall. Add to that the recruitment of blacks to the Union Army, then even gradual emancipation was out of the question for these early Unionists.

The Lost Cause Narrative

So when the story that unfolded post-war wasn’t the one most white Kentuckians preferred, they simply held onto the notion of the Lost Cause – the movement that sought to reinstate traditional Southern values while blaming the loss of the war on government betrayals, and idolizing Confederacy leaders. Kentucky whites never admitted they were wrong for supporting the Union but their actions said as much. At the end of the day, the majority of white Kentuckians wanted slavery to continue, at least long enough to get compensation for their “property.”

Winners and losers united after the end of the war once they realized that their main post-war concern – the politics of race – was more important than the color of their uniforms.

Marshall includes several examples of newspaper reports that eluded to Kentucky’s backwards attitude toward slavery. “Oh wise Democracy of Kentucky, hugging the relic of slavery to your bosoms, holding on to slavery because it used to pay, forgetting that the times have changed…” wrote the Cincinnati Gazette.

Instead, many white Kentuckians simply countered with their own translation of the effects of the war. John Fox Jr.’s “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come” conveyed the notion that Kentucky was Confederate in sympathy if not in uniform. Annie Fellows Johnston’s children’s book, “The Little Colonel,” which was set in a fictionalized version of Peewee Valley, vigorously perpetuated the notion that Kentucky was a Confederate state.

And perhaps the most relevant was the erection of Kentucky monuments honoring Confederate leaders. Again, just a reminder, the Confederacy did not win the war. Yet these grand displays of honor say otherwise.

Hustle & Flow

Marshall’s research and relevant theories inarguably validate what many Civil War historians have known: despite being on the “winning team,” Kentucky has historically celebrated the leaders and philosophy of the Confederacy.

There are so many WTF moments in “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” that will incite instant fury if you are a purveyor of justice. But the journey to get to these realizations is a bit laborious.

The book, all 188 pages of it, is peppered with dozens (and dozens) of examples that cast a light of inexplicable ignorance on those in power in Kentucky during this era. There is no question as to what was (is?) at play here: dressing up racial inequality in a seersucker suit and a dapper bowtie as to camouflage it in southern charm. But these truths are obstructed by the stumbling blocks caused by the flow.

Editing is to blame here (confession: I am an editor by profession, so I admit to a bias, but I’d argue this point even if I wasn’t). The book is divided into subjects as well as time periods within the 1865-1935 timeline. But because politics is the real driving force behind the Lost Cause argument, there are a great deal of redundancies throughout the book. Unfortunately, this waters down many of the solid points Marshall makes.

She does draw some interesting parallels that I hadn’t put together before, namely the influence of Appalachia’s eastern Kentucky. The region boasted the absence of slavery and was a major white base of the Republican party at the time. In fact, Vanceburg, Ky., is home to one of the strongest memorials to the Union. (Kentucky is home to around 70 Civil War monuments, 6:1 in favor of the Confederacy.)

If you go into the book looking for a Civil War narrative that neatly shows Kentucky’s convenient amnesia about its role in “The Lost Cause,” you will leave empty-handed. But for a Civil War reference book that directly addresses Kentucky’s flip-flopping allegiance, Marshall’s “Creating a Kentucky Confederacy” is truly engaging. It is also a reminder to never take things at face value. You don’t need to devour the book in one setting. In fact, allowing the absurdity of Kentucky’s rejection of the final outcome to truly set in helps to explain a lot about the Civil War legacy the Commonwealth has left its citizens with today. The issue really is black and white.

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Climate Change Radicals Issue New Manifesto

Those well-know climate radicals at the Risky Business Project, including former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg, L.P., Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of the Treasury and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, and former Secretary of State George Schultz, have just issued a new report about the projected impacts of climate change on the Southeast United States and Texas. This report includes projections about Kentucky, that well-known island of climate change invulnerability. The Project “…focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate.”

In the latest of a series of climate change regional impact reports, the report on the Southeast and Texas projects ominous regional and state impacts if we stay on current emissions paths. Among its findings:

  • The Southeast and Texas will experience by the end of the century dangerous levels of extreme heat. For instance, the average Arkansas citizen will likely experience between 65 and 135 days above 95 degrees, more than the average citizen of Arizona currently experiences.
  • There will be large-scale losses and damage to coastal property, in the tens of billions of dollars, by 2050, with substantial impacts experienced by the year 2030. Louisiana and Florida will be most impacted, with rising sea levels and hurricanes and coastal storms interacting with rising sea levels accounting for much of the losses. Charleston, South Carolina will experience a mean sea level rise of 0.9 to 1.4 feet by 2050 and of 2.1 to 3.8 feet by the end of the century. Get your dose of low country cuisine now.
  • Several major Southeast commodity crops, including corn and soybean, will see steep declines in yields, beginning over the next five to twenty-five years.

So, how about we take a peek into the report’s projections for the Commonwealth? Some of the reports findings are:

  • By 2020-2039, the number of days above 95 degrees is likely to reach up to 23 such days and then reach up to 44 days per year by mid-century—more extreme heat than Texas experiences today. This rise in temperature will have substantial effects on crop yields including our most valuable commodities, corn and soybeans. Climate changes will also impact labor productivity, and energy costs.
  • Our most valuable crops, corn and soybeans, are projected to have the third highest yield losses in the nation due to climate change. The report states,
Absent significant agricultural adaptation, state corn yields will likely decrease by up to 22% by 2020-2039 and by up to 47% in the following 20 years. Soybeans, the state’s most valuable crop, will likely see crop yield declines of up to 13% by 2020-2039 and by up to 29% by 2040-2059.
  • Rising electricity demand due to climate changes are likely to increase energy expenditures in the state by 5% over the next twenty years and by 9% by 2040-2059.

Kentucky’s political leaders, in thrall to coal and other related interests, continue to rail against the Obama administration’s assertive steps to confront the threat of climate change. Sacrificing the future well-being of citizens of the state to maintain power in the present is a failure of leadership of the first magnitude.

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Congratulations, Humans!

Yes, we are a species capable of utter depravity, cruelty, shortsightedness, and self-absorption. But today we celebrate how creative, imaginative, inventive, and adventurous we humans can be. Today marks the completion of humankind’s initial exploration of all the planets of our solar system.

Think about that for a moment.

The audacity of the project to reconnoiter all the planets leaves one breathless. In the space of a little over one hundred years we have gone from a flight of a few seconds over the dunes of Kitty Hawk to propelling a responsive little robot photographer and scientist billions of miles to the outer reaches of our little cosmic neighborhood. If humans manage to have a future it is not hard to imagine that it lies, at least in part, out there.

Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

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Visions of Cheapside- An Updated Update!

In our recent piece on UnderMain about the history of slave auctions at Cheapside  and the statues of heroes of the Confederacy that stand there today, we called for public art to reveal the true nature of that space made sacred by suffering. At a wonderful public forum in July at the Carnegie Center, the Mayor announced that he has asked the Arts Review Board to make recommendations.

We believe that this important conversation should be inclusive, so that a project to re-imagine Cheapside is a true community effort. The conversation is made more urgent now with the apparent deliberate breaking of the sign at Cheapside relating the history of slave auctions at the site.

In a related piece of news, the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 7-2 to keep the statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the secessionist Confederate States of America and devoted defender of slavery, in the Capitol rotunda alongside Kentucky greats, like Abraham Lincoln. Davis was born in Fairview, Kentucky, but spent much of his life in Mississippi. The statue was erected under the auspices of the Kentucky Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was unveiled in 1936, part of a decades-long revanchist effort begun after the Civil War to romanticize, glorify, and commemorate the Lost Cause and its heroes. That cause, primarily and centrally to preserve the right to continue the enslavement of African-Americans, continued throughout the South under a different guise for another 100 years after the Civil War through an architecture of subjugation including Jim Crow laws, enforced segregation and discrimination, deprivation of basic constitutional rights, intimidation, violence, and murder.

In Lexington, the first meeting of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Arts Review Board with the Cheapside issue on the agenda was on Wednesday, August 12. Mayor Jim Gray appeared before the Board and presented his charge for the Board to make studied recommendations concerning the status of the statues and historic marker in Cheapside. The Mayor made a point several times during his brief statement to highlight the importance of “shared values” and sensitivity to Lexington’s history, diversity, and inclusiveness in the Board’s considerations.

The next meeting concerning Cheapside of the Arts Review Board will be on September 16, at 3:00pm. At that meeting invited consultants with expertise in history, art, public art and other related fields will present information to the Board for its consideration. The meeting is in the LFUCG Council Chambers and is open to the public. Attendance by interested members of the community at this next meeting and the public comment meeting on September 21, at 6:00pm, is encouraged and urged.

We would most definitely like to hear your ideas for efforts to address the history of Cheapside. Continued involvement of the community in this effort is most important. We will compile your suggestions and send them on to the Arts Review Board, whose Chairperson, Georgia Henkel, has expressed interest in suggestions coming through the UnderMain channel. We also will highlight in a future post on UnderMain some of the ideas that we think would be “revelations”, as we called for in our piece on Cheapside. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward!

Send us your ideas here:

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What it’s like to be homeless in Lexington, Kentucky

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Everyone seems to have explanations of the homeless.

“They are just lazy bums who don’t want to work.”

“I heard that some of them make like $60,000 a year begging.”

These theories help us justify our rationales for declining to help people we see on the streets by dismissing their struggles as self-inflicted or too complex for our intervention.

But how many of us have actually sat down for a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who is homeless? A genuine conversation free of judgment, preconceived notions, and self-righteousness, entered into with only a genuine compassionate curiosity and desire to understand?

BUH---Josh-and-CaseyCasey Yohe and I wanted to do this and take it a step further. We wanted to see how these individuals who have been cast out of regular society survive and what do they do, day-to-day. So we immersed ourselves into their reality and raised some money for a homeless shelter along the way.

To accomplish this we launched #BringUsHome. The goal of this social media-based initiative was to remain homeless until our friends and family “brought us home” with donations towards our goal of $3,000 which we would then donate to The Catholic Action Center, a local resource and shelter for the homeless.

To ensure our efforts were sensitive and respectful, we got the approval not only of service providers, but individuals who are actually homeless.

And then we laid out some ground rules;

We would bring with us no belongings except a backpack, a phone, and a phone charger.

No money.

No begging for money on the street.

No returning home until we reached $3,000 on our online fundraising page.

Our guides

Ginny Ramsey, the director of the Catholic Action Center found a mother and daughter who were both homeless who wanted to serve as our guides throughout the experience, allowing us to shadow them for the duration of the project. While many of us would be uncomfortable with this level of intrusion, Pam and Sonya said they were really excited about it because they truly wanted to show the public what it is actually like to be homeless.

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When do we get to be lazy?

No money in our pockets meant we walked. A lot. Everywhere. It felt like we were constantly marching along this invisible trail of misery from shelters to churches to parks to libraries to anywhere that provided some brief reprieve from the impenitent sun. Keep in mind, this was a pleasant, dry weekend in late May. How did anyone do this in February when Lexington was rocked with blizzards and subzero temperatures? Or in March when we got pounded with more snow on a Wednesday and Thursday than any two-day snowfall in Lexington’s history?

“It got pretty bad. You find out what you are really made of,” remarked Pam, not breaking stride out of fear we’d miss out on the lunch being handed out in a parking lot.

“It got pretty bad. You find out what you are really made of,” remarked Pam, not breaking stride out of fear we’d miss out on the lunch being handed out in a parking lot.

“When do we get to be lazy?” I replied, a half-joking, half-serious inquiry as to when we get to rest.

A terrible irony of homelessness is that you have all the time in the world, yet none of it is yours. You eat dinner when the church serves dinner. You get transportation when the bus comes. You enter the shelter when they say you can and you leave when they say you must. Privacy is nonexistent and you relieve yourself in the public library’s bathroom when it opens. You have no control over your personal world because it is entirely in the hands of others.

Flying a sign

The endlessly debated moral conundrum: What do you do if you see someone holding a sign begging for money?

“Oh yeah, flyin’ a sign,” said Pam. “I can tell you right now I have never done such a thing in my life.”

I was surprised to learn that the folks we see on the corner asking for donations represent only a tiny portion of the homeless population – most people on the streets have never “flown a sign.”

“It’s upsetting because they make us all look bad,” said a frustrated Sonya.

“It’s upsetting because they make us all look bad,” said a frustrated Sonya.

This strong, palpable resentment among the homeless towards people who fly signs was consistent throughout most of our conversations; most proudly proclaimed they have never done it. In fact, most of the individuals Casey and I encountered were doing everything in their power to get back on their feet. Jessica, for example: one of the most determined individuals I have ever met, taking classes, working three jobs, and saving up money for her own place.

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The shelter

To avoid taking a bed from someone who needed it, we were going to stay on the streets until Ginny insisted that we stay at The Community Inn, because there would be extra beds due to the nicer weather, but also so we could get the entire experience of sleeping in the same place as others who are homeless.

It isn’t until you stay in a shelter that you are confronted with the engulfing brokenness that many people are struggling to overcome. It’s the underside of society that you avoid thinking about. While the rest Lexington sleeps soundly in safe homes, over 1,000 individuals each night either stay on the streets in Lexington or seek refuge in a shelter.

You quickly realize that the reasons people are homeless are often complex and intertwined. Untangling them is a challenge.

The untreated mental illness combined with an absent familial support system.

The overwhelming grip of addiction combined with one mistake in the past that makes you unemployable.

The years of violent, sexual abuse combined with a dearth of self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence.

Compassion

Within the homeless population, I witnessed more compassion, respect, and manners than exhibited by the very society that has written them off. As Casey and I became more immersed in their reality, I saw example after example of this selfless love for one another: looking out for each other; sharing food, cell phones, clothes, and other necessities.

At one point, as I was staring aimlessly in a sleep-deprived trance, my gaze was interrupted by the shine of a cold pop can that had been placed in front of me. I looked up and Pam said to me “Looked like you could use it,” with a warm smile. The beauty of that moment is nearly ineffable; a woman, beat up and beat down from years on the streets with nothing to her name but a backpack and a resilient smile still chose to spend her last quarter on a stranger.

Drugs

If you’ve never been homeless, you may have wondered why anyone would spend their last dollar on drugs and alcohol. At the peak of the misery of my experience while homeless I wondered no more: If that was my existence every day, with no sign of it ending and no idea how I would solve the suffocating problems that plagued me, I would need something to escape the unavoidable pain. I would need something to alter my reality by any means necessary to find some distorted sense of solace, no matter how detrimental it may end up being.

“Y’all gotta git”

The worst experience of my sojourn in the reality of homelessness was our visit to a local McDonald’s.

BUH---McDonaldsAfter comparing sleepless experiences and the lowlights of our sweaty nights, my homeless family and I began our nomadic march to the nearby McDonald’s to begin the morning. Somnolent and disheveled we arrived at the golden arches and were coldly greeted by this sign:

I thought it was odd but forgot about it as we sat down with our purchases, united in pleasant conversation and fellowship sponsored by caffeine and camaraderie. Despite the inevitable reality of homelessness that waited outside the door, this joyful respite provided fleeting refuge from the misery as we joked, told stories from our childhood, and nestled in the solace of our newly formed friendships.

Then, abruptly, devoid of hospitable pleasantries or even scripted perfunctory dialogue, an employee announced that if you have been there for 30 minutes or more it was now time for you to leave.

Before I could question or object, the McDonald’s employee began snatching receipts out of the hands of the paying customers I was with, scrutinizing the time-of-order details on their slips, and responding dismissively with “You’ve been here for longer than 30 minutes, y’all gotta git.”

And just like that, the restaurant chain that once touted in a merry jingle that they were “your place to be,” brusquely made it clear that that meant everyone except us.   We embarrassingly and submissively made our way to the exit, gathered our backpacks in the doorway then walked outside, reconvening near the door. Before our homeless friends could finish telling us how less-than-human it makes them feel, a different employee came outside and barked “C’mon, y’all gotta go. Y’all can’t just stand here by the door,” and we were shooed away like pesky gnats at a picnic.

And to think, some local businesses in Lexington will even allow dogs in their establishments.

The most marginalized of marginalized

It was from experiences like this abysmal treatment by McDonald’s that I realized the homeless population is truly the most marginalized of the marginalized. Imagine if a restaurant employee had ejected a customer based on their skin color? Or applied this “policy” to someone because of their sexual orientation?

During my brief time being homeless I realized that marginalized might not even be the best way to describe people who are homeless as that suggests they are still active peripheral participants of society. When you are homeless, you aren’t even on the edge of society—you are left out of the picture altogether. You’re an afterthought. People avoid talking to you or making eye contact. When you are thought of, it is more along the lines of in preparation for a storm or plague, like “How will our event be affected when the homeless come?”

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We’re all the same

When you refer to someone as “that homeless man,” it immediately conjures up an image and a stereotype that suggests the chasm between your existence and his is so wide that he might as well be from another planet. Yet as I sat at Phoenix Park on our donated blankets among several folks who were homeless, I realized that despite many of the ostensible differences between people who have homes and people who don’t, we’re all the same.
They wanted the same things that we all want, regardless of our living situations. They wanted friendships. They wanted respect. They wanted to overcome the barriers keeping them in the streets. They relied on their own community and strived to fit in amongst people. They laughed with each other, they heckled their friends, they gave in to the occasional donut, they reminisced about the old days with a hopeful vision for the future. They prayed, they thanked, they sang goofy songs. They had bad days and sometimes the bad days would win.

For some reason, this detail about their life—that they do not have a permanent home—instantly becomes the characteristic by which we define their entire existence. Yet each time I met an individual who is homeless and heard their story, I realized we are all only one or two steps away from being homeless. It could happen to any of us.
We’re all broken in some way. Some of us with homes are merely able to hide it better. When you are homeless, you often wear your mistakes on your sleeve through your appearance or mere existence. Your lack of privacy extends to the inability to conceal the errors you have made in your past and forces you to live in a transparent manner, more transparent than most of us could ever dream of being.

For some reason, this detail about their life—that they do not have a permanent home—instantly becomes the characteristic by which we define their entire existence. Yet each time I met an individual who is homeless and heard their story, I realized we are all only one or two steps away from being homeless.

Every day, whether we like to admit it or not, we all engage in a battle between hope and hopelessness. Fortunately for many of us, hope usually wins. We are surrounded by friends and family who encourage us as well as promising opportunities and goals that motivate us and allow us to believe we are working towards a better future.

Hope

We terrified our friends and family with this project. We knew this would scare them and we wanted to harness that fear for the benefit of others by raising the funds to get us home and donate it to the shelter. However, what if we looked at everyone on the streets as a friend or family member? What if we reacted to their homelessness with the same urgency and panic as our friends and family did for us? If the two of us were able to raise $3,000 in a weekend, can you imagine what could happen with just a little shift in our collective mentality?

Maybe one day we’ll be able to bring everyone home.

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Our own tarnished legacy

Since we seem to be having, in the wake of hate-filled murder, this moment of national conversation about symbols and meaning and memory, perhaps it’s time to look closer to home.

shacklesSome time, in the dead of the night, after the bars close, after the music stops, after the college kids stumble away, long after the farmers roll up their beautiful bounty for sale, long after the cheerful sounds of fun and games quiet, go down to Cheapside. Listen with all of your self for other sounds; the sounds of whips cracking across bare flesh, of mothers wailing as they are separated from children they will never see again, of the auctioneers’ cadences pricing human flesh, the sounds of immeasurable suffering.

This is our haunted place, our house of horrors. And presiding over it all is the dignified statue of John Breckinridge; Son of Kentucky, cousin of Mary Todd, congressman, senator, 14th Vice President of the United States, defender of the right to secession, and the only United States Senator to be convicted by the Senate of treason. Slave owner and firm defender of slavery. Still ruling over human chattel, still ruling over Cheapside.

It's about time for lots of things. Time for exposing not just the blatant racists, but the dog whistlers, the code-speakers, the apologists, the deniers, and the romanticizers of a heritage of centuries of brutality.

And perhaps right here in our little corner of paradise it’s time to give an address to truth. We, the current denizens of this place are not responsible for the evils of slavery, for the compound sins of the past. We are, however, fully accountable for freeing the truth.

So, a proposition for the now of us. Take that statue of Mr. Breckinridge and put him somewhere else, not in the place where we can still hear the tortured screams of a shameful past. Maybe put him in the same museum they might put those battle flags of subjugation masquerading as state flags and symbols. And take just a bit of those millions of dollars proposed for renovation of the Old Courthouse for purposing a revelation.

Since we at UnderMain celebrate the liberating power of art, how about a commissioned piece, maybe a juried contest for a public work befitting the awful stain that was Cheapside? We love our public art in Lexington, even getting famous for it. Put it here to a purpose. Liberate the truth amidst the sounds of everyday life in the center of our city. Cheapside deserves it, we deserve it, we need it. And the voices in the night need to know we are a truthful place.

Local images provided by UK Special Collections:

Here
and
here

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White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

‘The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is.’ – Wendell Berry (courtesy of the Carnegie Center, Lexington, Kentucky.)

I was sitting on the only piece of paper within reach – an oversize name tag reserving my chair for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Wendell Berry. The paper was beige, dull, and heavy – not really of a character to form any sort of story. The letters of my name were nicely printed on it, each had serifs that matched the decorative embellishments framing the length of my name top and bottom.

Like a mother hen to egg; I guarded it as though it was something very special. The piece of paper was after all saving a chair for me in the front room of the Carnegie Center amidst some of the most dedicated writers, journalists, editors, and publishers in all of Kentucky. Equally important: I knew the opposite side of it was blank.

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) were inducted that night too. Excerpts from the writings of each was selected as carefully as were the readers of them.  Ron Whitehead read Hunter S. Thompson’s words with a volume that was maybe intended to mimic Thompson’s humor but played more clearly as the rawness of life in the absence of his long-lost friend.

Mary Ellen Miller whispered through weaker vocal chords; reminiscing – with a melancholy that each of us could sense – on her late husband’s work.  Neil Chethik’s clear articulation as he introduced Wendell Berry removed any need for us to explain why we were there.

For me, each of the voices that spoke that night resounded more intently than the words spoken. There was something in the act of reading them aloud. They were comforting, familiar, communal sounds that we all know and I hope will continue to know.

Then, it was quiet as Wendell Berry – the first living inductee to be honored into the Hall of Fame – stepped up to read what he must have prepared as an acceptance speech. But, his cadence, his tonality, his sincerity and humility, and the words that filled the then hot room in the Carnegie Center on that cold January night in Lexington, Kentucky were a marked call-to-action.

No electronic devices, scratchings of pen on paper or the turning of pages interrupted as Berry made reference to many urgent public issues. He emphatically stated that in Kentucky we have no way to vet our concerns, no public forum, no healthy outlet for the a much needed dialogue about many things including the writings of Kentucky authors. There was only silence as he spoke of the ‘cloud of silence’. Postures shifted. I gently pulled the piece of paper from its resting place.

Berry continued noting that here in Kentucky ‘we have a sufficiency of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books, but no space for related public discourse.’ We roost with eyes closed, content on expressing our opinions in what has now become our public – the semi-private world of the Facebook and Twitter. As Leon Wieseltier notes in Among the Disrupted (New York Times, January 7, 2015) what we prefer now is a ‘twittering cacophony’ where alacritous and terse one-liners grant the highest of merits – a like, a comment. Cackling hens that only ding.

As the co-publisher of a young, fully digital magazine dedicated to arts and culture in Kentucky, I left feeling a keen sense of responsibility – not to explain what Wendell Berry had said, but to more fully understand it for myself. How much time do we have before something more significant is lost? What is my responsibility in the digital age? How can I help move us beyond what Wieseltier describes as the ‘lag between invention in the apprehension of its consequences’?

We cannot explain it fully, but my fellow UnderMain-ers and I have agreed to bring to our readers and our listeners reviews of books by Kentucky authors as well as the occasional reading. Just as in Berry’s move back to Kentucky, we might find sustenance in a new iteration of the sounding pages.

We thank the Carnegie Center for hosting the induction and for inviting us to attend. For a copy of the full text of Wendell Berry’s speech, click here.

For The Explainers
Spell the spiel of cause and effect
Ride the long rail of fact after fact;
What curled the plume of the Drake’s tail
and put the white ring around his neck?

– Wendell Berry

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Gov. Beshear on Kentucky’s Heroin Crisis

Depositphotos_29089677_original

In October, 2014 I wrote a piece for UnderMain in my attempt to understand what led to the heroin explosion in Kentucky, who it affected, and what was being done about it.  Throughout my journey I met with persevering former addicts, heartbroken family members of those we had lost to this drug, and professionals in the trenches, tirelessly battling the epidemic. One of the areas I covered was the fate of Senate Bill 5 and how its failure to win passage subsequently burst the hopes of many Kentuckians hoping for relief and protection from the heroin storm by way of legislative action. Then suddenly, with this year’s General Assembly, came a wave of optimism as the bill was resuscitated and seemed to have much stronger support by both the public and our political leaders in Frankfort. To gain a better understanding of what this bill included and how it could move from a hope to a reality, I had the opportunity to sit down, one-on-one, with one of its most ardent advocates, Governor Steve Beshear. Watch the video.

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Nothing Blue Can Stay: The Platoons of Kentucky Men’s Basketball

How long can the platoons last?

Each year it is with some reluctance that I transfer my affections from the University of Kentucky football team to its men’s basketball team. Their seasons’ overlap in November is awkward for me, a struggle to adjust from the wide martial arc of football to the dogfights of basketball. This tempo change is aggravated, in the John Calipari era, by the prospect of an entirely new roster of starters each year, fab freshman whose ever subdividing stages of recruitment—unofficial and official visits, verbal commitments, Letters of Intent—I do not happen to follow. Except for Nerlens Noel, who gave proof of his outsized personality and heart when he announced his choice on live TV by swiveling around in his chair to display the UK logo shaved into his nape.

Simply put, it’s hard caring about a brand new team every year. Longtime fans are accustomed to watching players develop over three, four, sometimes five years. I didn’t set foot in this state until my thirties, and without any  birthright to the Big Blue Nation, my enthusiasm relies on an interest in the players, their strengths and weaknesses, histories, personalities, and how they compete. In UK basketball, with so few returning starters each year, I was becoming jaded with the one-and-done business, despite Calipari’s laudable “players first” philosophy, which I completely embrace in theory. In 2011–12 I revolted, vowing not to tune in until conference play, and not really watching until February, thereby missing the early-to-mid-season progress of a phenomenal team and the NBA’s brightest young light, Anthony Davis. Lesson learned.

So, after the incredible tournament run of the 2013–14 team and its loss in the national championship, I rejoiced along with the rest of BBN when multiple starters announced their intentions to return. We knew another amazing freshman class was on its way to town, and we wondered, who would start? We trusted Coach Cal to work out the details, and he did, inverting Donald Rumsfeld and going to war with the army he had, which was twice as good as the army he may have wished to have. Calipari invented the system, named the system, and suddenly, the fairly urgent problem of too many star players was transformed into an endlessly fascinating new array of tactics and tempos for everyone involved. With the platoon system, we are watching something entirely new: no division 1 team has ever sustained it, because they haven’t needed to, because it’s a new problem, a now inevitable-seeming outcome of Calipari’s recruiting genius.

But Coach Cal isn’t just a recruiting guy, a marketing guy, a carnival barker as one sporstwriter dubbed him: he can also coach. Pre-season, everyone smelled blood, eager to see a clash of personalities as this plethora of star newcomers and veterans would be required to set aside their entirely reasonable expectations for games with 30–35 minutes of playing time and the resulting big statistics. Instead, they’d get 20 minutes and smaller stats through which to pursue their NBA dreams. Yet, these have become in every way salubrious platoons—for the players, the fans, the media, and the sport itself.

Ample make this team.

Make this team with awe.

In it wait till March Madness break

Excellent and Fair

Be its passes straight

Be its foul shots round

Let no rivals’ yellow noise

Interrupt this ground.

(after Emily Dickinson)

The platoon system solves several basketball problems. First, it’s regrettable that such a fun game to play and watch has the smallest roster of any team sport, only 5, versus football’s 11, soccer’s 11, lacrosse’s 10, baseball’s 9, ice hockey’s 6. That basketball is the smallest-roster team sport is a recipe for heartbreak beginning in middle school, in this town where basketball is a religion and so many youth are highly skilled at the game and expect to make their school team. “He’s one of the toughest kids in the school, but when anyone talks about the try-out, he starts tearing up,” reported my 6th grader in illustration of the widespread agony around try-out time for those who didn’t make the team.

Basketball is also the sport most vulnerable to selfish playing styles, such as ball-hogging and offensive showboating. Yet it seems that the founding articles of Calipari’s platoon system are unselfish play and attention to defense. We must credit his leadership for building a team of 10 starters who are off the charts in numbers of assists and blocked shots and opponents’ low shooting percentages. “The best defensive team in the modern era of college basketball” is what the Eastern Kentucky coach declared, having lost 82–49.

Platoons change the game, for players, opponents, and even fans. With so many games in a season, there is the temptation for busy fans to tune in only after halftime. Doing so this year would mean missing the exquisite drama of the Blue Platoon, who start the game, warming up the opponent for 4 minutes, probably with some blocked shots and alley-oops, until around 16:00 when Blue exits en masse to be replaced by the White Platoon, who also block shots and alley-oop, and so forth throughout the game in roughly 4-minute increments. Wonder which team gets tired first?

The White Platoon, which starts the second half, has just one starter from last year, Dakari Johnson, plus three freshman, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, and last year’s bench warmer Marcus Lee. Lee had one break-out half in the tournament last year, when he scored 10 crucial points vs. Michigan, securing him a spot in BBN’s hearts forever. How terrible it would have been, without this platoon system, to see Marcus Lee only warming that bench again this year! Thank you, Coach Cal, for finding a way to consistently play Marcus Lee. And Dakari Johnson, who stepped into a starting role after Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury last year, has accomplished very good things already, but he would likely be the 6th man again, behind Cauley-Stein and Towns, were it not for these salubrious platoons.

The Blue Platoon is returning starters Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley Stein, Alex Poythress, and the extraordinarily talented, well-spoken, and huge freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, whose name accurately conveys the grandeur of his person and prospects. Now all those amazing buzzer-beaters by Aaron Harrison, the reassuring game management and dribble-drives of Andrew Harrison, the nimble eccentricity of Cauley-Stein, the periodic explosiveness of Poythress: their remembered feats make fond penumbras around the new season.

Much has been written about Alex Poythress and his season-ending ACL tear on December 11. He was a team favorite, a fan favorite, and a coaches’ favorite for his achievements and character on and off the court. There is even a Twitter tribute account worth visiting, @APTheTypeOfDude, affectionately mocking his straight-arrow personality, in which every tweet begins the same, e.g., “Poythress the type of dude to use the clear nights we’ve had lately as a chance to finally test out his new telescope.” Poignantly, its tweet on December 12 was, “Poythress the type of dude to come back from his injury better than ever, whether it’s with UK or the NBA. He’ll be back.”

I asked my friend Whitney if she ever mentally assembles her favorite players into a hypothetical starting 5, say the best players from each platoon. “No,” she said, “because the platoons are so well balanced.” It’s true: scoring and other stats across both platoons bear this out, and that’s no coincidence. Balance is fundamental to sustaining the platoon system. Otherwise, if one platoon significantly outperformed the other, it would be untenable to continue giving equal minutes to both platoons. Time will tell if the balance endures, and certainly Poythress’s vacancy is a challenge to the system. “I’m on a mission to make this work for each of these kids,” said Calipari pre-season, and if the firehose of talent is to continue gushing our way with each new recruiting class, it has to. The platoons have got to be sustainable.

Meanwhile, fans are in a state of ecstasy, not only because we’re 12–0, but because we have twice as many players to love. Coach Cal didn’t invent platoons to enhance the fan experience, but he surely knew that Big Blue Nation and its attendant media could easily absorb a double helping of greatness.

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9/11

In a time when the word “hero” is gratuitously overused, when politicians pose as heroes for doing their job, or not, this piece run in the WaPo in 2011 reminds us what the word really looks like.

597px-911_Tribute_(perspective_fixed)

“911 Tribute (perspective fixed)” by KimCarpenter NJ

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Is it “Christian” to turn away vulnerable children?

Guest opinion by Lyman Stone ~

Transy grad, Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone

Transy grad, Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34, ESV

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” – Jeremiah 7:5-7

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:1-6

* * *

Customs and Border Patrol officials estimate that up to 74,000 unaccompanied minors will be caught crossing the southern border of the United States this year, a dramatic rise from just over 15,000 in 2011. The largest part of this boom comes from migrants from Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras. This surge of young migrants has provoked a public theater of outrage, with anti-immigration advocates protesting at refugee shelters and transfer points, yelling at busloads of children in scenes that, to the author’s Southern imagination, look hauntingly like Little Rock in 1957.

For self-styled moderates in the broader immigration debate, the treatment of child migrants is and should be a litmus test. The reason why is simple: none of the conventional arguments against immigration apply to children. With what any honest accounting must call a humanitarian crisis in the making, the question of child migrants is a barometer of the honesty of immigration debates, and, of great concern to this writer, the spiritual integrity of politically active Christians.

Before the question of Christian responsibility for child migrants can be judged, it may be useful to briefly outline why child migrants are such a narrowly philosophical question. There are essentially three main arguments that a reasonable person, without malice or racist intentions, could deploy to argue against increased immigration: competition for jobs, cultural assimilation, and public financial burdens. Whatever validity these arguments may or may not have for immigrants generally, they simply do not apply to child migrants.

1. Child migrants aren’t competitors for jobs, and certainly not for high-quality jobs.
2. Child migrants will probably learn English and assimilate to other American norms. American youth culture is globally popular and rapidly learned, and with it comes the English language, meaning so assimilation of child migrants should be swift.
3. The degree to which child migrants burden government services is almost entirely determined by how we choose to welcome them. If we put them in refugee camps and segregate them from normal economic life, we can count on expensive welfare dependency. But with adoption, education, and more normalized living conditions, we can reasonably expect child migrants to become socially and economically integrated and productive American adults.

The usual arguments against immigration, based largely on what may be practical concerns, simply don’t apply to child migrants, provided we offer a quick transition into normalized life for them through fast-track adoptions and community sponsorships. The United States has had a long, if sometimes problematic, history of mass adoptions during periods of high immigration, such as the “Orphan Trains” taking unwanted children from the East Coast to the western states from the 1850s to 1920s. Conservatives who routinely advocate adoptions as an alternative to abortion should feel at home advocating it as an alternative to deportation. This is especially true given that, for children from violent or unstable countries, deportation may be a death sentence.

For Christians (such as the author) whose faith defines their political positions on everything from the sanctity of human life to the importance of work, the question of child migrants should therefore be simple. We should receive these children in Christ’s name, knowing that what we do for the least of these, we do for Christ. We should beware, lest we deport angels in disguise. We should recall that our treatment of the foreigner and the fatherless is the first test of our faith.

Many Christian churches, charities, and individuals throughout the nation have responded faithfully to the current child migrant crisis, providing shelter for displaced children, working hard to find adoptive homes and families, and helping older children find safe and productive places to live until they reach adulthood. These efforts are a salutary expression of public Christian piety in a way that sign-waving protests against busloads of children are not.

And ultimately, the solution for child migrants will vary: fast-track adoptions in non-border states could be good options for many, while the normal foster care system may serve others better. Some may be good candidates for court-supervised legal emancipation, others may already have family in the United States with whom they could be reunited, while others may need some as-yet unidentified system to help them integrate into the American mainstream. But whatever the solution may be, faithful Christians committed to the sanctity of life should be at the forefront of advocacy for vulnerable children, not at the front of the picket line.

Lyman Stone is a graduate of Transylvania University, Jessamine County native, and recent immigrant to the Washington, DC metro area. He is also an economist at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy think tank. Opinions expressed here are Lyman’s only, and do not represent the Tax Foundation.

Mr. Stone’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of UnderMain.

Related link: FACT SHEET: Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Those Recently Arrived to the United States

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Tripping over tipping

Do you make it a point to tip your server when you dine in a Lexington restaurant?

Judging by the results of one study, folks in our neck of the woods have a tight grip on their wallets when it comes to this matter of leaving a tip.

The average tip for good service in the U.S. is 18 percent, according a Harris Poll commissioned by Michelin. The study found the region that includes Kentucky with the nation’s the highest percentage of diners tipping less than 15 percent.

Ask servers and many will tell you that tipping is a system with ups and downs, positives and negatives. Ask restaurant owners and managers and they will tell you there is no other way it works financially for the economic health of the restaurant business.

Owners feel if server wages go up, the price of food would have to be increased commensurately. And no one wants to drive prices higher when wooing price-conscious customers is the name of the game.

Employment in the full-service restaurant industry has grown over 85 percent since 1990 while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24 percent, says a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Yet, the minimum hourly wage paid to servers has remained the same for 48 years.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1966 to establish a sub-minimum hourly wage of $2.13 for restaurant, hotel and other service industry employees who typically receive tips.

Here’s how it works under the law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor: “A tipped employee engages in an occupation in which he or she customarily and regularly receives more than $30 per month in tips. An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage. If the employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.” So, in essence, a portion of the employer’s labor cost is subsidized by customers via their tips, leaving the server to rely on the kindness and mood of strangers.

tipgraph

Many servers consider themselves in a partnership with their customers to try to make each other’s day a little better. They want you to enjoy your experience and they want to work hard to make that happen.

Most of us take exemplary service for granted and don’t wax poetic about a restaurant meal that goes well. Conversely, we tend to remember clearly when things go wrong.

“When there is a problem with the food, it is amazing how many people take that as an excuse for lowering the tip. Generally the waiter has nothing to do with that,” noted Louis Bickett, Jr., now entering his 30th year as a professional waiter at Lexington’s tony a la Lucie.

A restaurant, and more accurately a restaurant kitchen, is a chaotic place.  A lot is going on and a finely choreographed ballet needs to take place each shift, each meal. When you order dinner a small army of people are employed to make it happen.

Things can go wrong.

Soup awaits pick up too long and cools as a server rushes to take care of another table’s needs. The kitchen can mix up an order and send out two mistakes. A hostess can become overwhelmed by a large crowd and seat far too many people in one server’s section, creating momentary mayhem. The list goes on and in that environment, anything can happen.

“Communication, communication, communication with the kitchen, the fellow staff members and the customers” is essential, according to Bickett. “Respect for the kitchen is very important.”

Another Lexington server who preferred anonymity said she takes a great deal of pride in her work and considers it her mission to ensure that each person has a good experience. When she ends a shift having earned a day of fair tips she feels great. On the other hand, “It can be disheartening to work a long hard shift, do your best and go home with minimal tips. It gets discouraging.”

That inconsistency can make life difficult. “I can make $40 one shift and $10 the next,” she noted. “I have a mortgage and bills, too, so it is hard to never know if you will get a shift of decent tippers or some really bad tippers or a super slow day when no one comes in. Two tables one day and eight the next.”

Have you ever “camped” in a restaurant?  Had a meeting and took up a couple of hours at a table?  Had lunch with the girls or guys and stayed for hours catching up on old times? If a lengthy stay is unavoidable, it is proper to tip your server an appropriate amount that compensates them for having their livelihood on hold while you “rented” the piece of real estate (the table) where they make a living.

The Cell Phone Factor

Enter the era of the ubiquitous smart device and things become even more difficult for the server whose daily earnings depend on turnover.

A Craig’s List rant that recently went viral told of a private study conducted by a New York restaurant trying to get to the bottom of slowing sales. A consultant hired by Market Diner utilized ten year old surveillance video footage from the dining room compared to new camera footage. It was discovered in the more recent footage that cell phone distracted diners and also those stopping to photograph their food and posting messages about it, were responsible for meals taking sometimes as much as 40 additional minutes per table, resulting in far less turnover in tables for the restaurant per seating.

The practice is not limited to Manhattan. “I can’t tell you enough how it disrupts service in so many ways,” noted a la Lucie’s Bickett. “If we did not wait on the table while the phone was engaged we would never wait on the table. We just interrupt the person.”

“I was a career server for years and remember when cell phones first started to interrupt service,” commented former O’Charley’s server Kelly McBrayer. “Back then, the minute I saw that one person in a group was on the phone during the lunch or dinner rush I would politely stop them from ordering their drinks or appetizers by saying, ‘I’m sorry, the table next to you is ready to order, but I’ll be right back!’

If you think inconsiderate restaurant behavior and bad tipping habits go unnoticed and unmentioned – think again.

As a recent New Yorker cartoon depicting two diners looking over their bill captioned, “How much do we have to leave to avoid a social media incident?”

Whats the right thing to do?

One percent of diners surveyed for Michelin’s study said they never tip, an outcome that has a ripple effect throughout the restaurant.  Here’s why: servers have to share their tips with several other people including a host or hostess, the table bussers, food runners, bartenders, etc. The tip you leave is divided among many you may not realize are part of your service.

There are stories of $20 tips on a ten dollar tab – every server remembers those magic moments with great joy. Big tippers account for 12 percent of men and eight percent of women diners, according to Michelin’s Harris poll.  But there also are many stories of $5 tips on hundred dollar tabs.

Interestingly, servers frequently observe that well-off patrons can often be the stingiest tippers while lower income customers can be the most generous. Many report that young people, both high school and college aged, are terrible tippers. This seems likely due to a lack education on the matter. Raising awareness is key.

What could make things more positive?

Websites about proper tipping and restaurant etiquette have sprung up all over the internet and many good books are available, some serious and some offering advice with a good deal of levity thrown in. Some cases call for better training of server staff. It is not unusual for servers to be hired, handed an apron and tossed into the mix. Serving is not always treated as a career, but a brief stint between other jobs – and it can show.

A few restaurants are experimenting with ways to eliminate tipping and even servers, altogether.

Packhouse Meats, a Newport, KY. restaurant that opened in January has a no-tipping policy.  Packhouse servers are paid ten dollars an hour or 20 percent of their food sales per shift, whichever amount is highest. This guarantees money made per shift and eliminates the uncertainty of tips as income. No sweating the good or bad tipper variable.

Some restaurants are experimenting with using computer tablets enabling customers to see menus and message their orders digitally, eliminating the need for most servers.

Time will tell whether these are viable ideas. In the meantime, in nearly every eatery where tables are waited, tipping is not only acceptable, it is essential to those serving you.

One server I spoke with was asked, “What would you like the public to know about servers?”  The answer? “Be careful how you treat the people who are handling your food.”

Words to live by.  Words to dine by.

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I Might As Well Bathe In Cheese

Oh, if only I had made that deadline for Lexington’s first ever Flash Fiction Contest, here is what I would have submitted.

Cheesy Mouse#2

Searching for her teeth, I went into the kitchen and found a pot of soup they must have forgotten when the ambulance came. It was cheesy soup, probably cream of cheddar, yellow and gloppy. Already angry, I jerked the pot toward the sink only to nearly drop it at the site of a mouse sitting chest deep in what must have smelled like a good idea at the time.

My phone buzzed again with more text messages from my six siblings. I threw up my hands. This was too much! As if a possible accidental overdose of sleeping pills, missing prescription drugs, and the ensuing argument that either the help took them or mom literally took them, was not.

I snuck back into the kitchen and peaked over the rim of the oversize pot. He was just a baby. I knew I had to get him out, despite having spent the prior week reading Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner and coming to the conclusion that I would no longer over-function in stressful situations.

Mom’s house is in a quiet neighborhood with no real side door and a dangerous back exit. I picked up the old crusty spoon in one hand, the pot in the other. I walked out the front door to the small flower bed that we planted last Easter when mom showed signs of recovering from the last hospital visit.

Gently I scooped the cheesy mouse up and placed him under some purple flowers. I took the pot back in and threw it in the kitchen sink and filled it with soapy water. Just to get even, I decided not to wash the thing, because I meant business this time.

An hour later I headed back to the hospital to take mom’s lunch. I was feeling like a failure, having not found her dentures that disappeared the night of the 911 call. Another text came in and mom was getting out. ‘Wait she was supposed to…’ ‘Stay, who can stay with her?’ another text bleeped.

This time I would set my boundaries with my family. I would say ‘no’.

I arrived in room 5404 only to find my mother shaking a little, so I sat with her while she ate her cheese sandwich and fresh fruit with a Diet Coke.

It felt good; mom was going home like she has the last hundred times. It was so refreshing that I decided to share my story. With my second-eldest sister on the phone, my six-foot-five brother crammed into the chair in the corner of the room, and mom in her hospital bed, I told the story of the cheesy mouse. We laughed nervous but genuine, gut-wrenching laughter – the kind that has let us pass through such major dysfunction in the past, many times over.

Collecting ourselves, my sister asked when mom was being released, just what the doctors were saying and what to do about her medicines when she got home. Oh, and most importantly, she finished with, ‘Sis, did you wash the cheese off the mouse?’

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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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25 Years After Tiananmen Square

 

I remember watching the coverage on television, mouth agape, at the sudden exuberant explosion of peaceful protests in Beijing.  The crafting of the Goddess of Democracy statue in the square, the excited demands, hopes, yearnings for freedom of thought, expression, and democratic governance.  The hopefulness of it all.  The crazy courage and determination of protesters from all walks of Chinese life.

And then, of course, came this.

The Chinese government has not just whitewashed the brutal crackdown, in true Orwellian fashion it has attempted to remove the entire episode from national historic memory.

Louisa Lim’s new book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, takes us back to those momentous times, and individuals whose lives were forever changed by the protests and crackdown.  National Geographic just published a brief interview with her.

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No Easy Answers

After another horrific mass killing the renewed seeking of answers, solutions, proposed interventions is understandable.  Mental health intervention is almost always proposed as a major element of a solution. Read this column in today’s New York Times to gain further understanding of the complexities of the issue.

Share your thoughts about this issue and what steps need to be taken.

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UK President Capilouto Fires Back in Letter to Rupp Task Force Chair

Kentucky Sports Radio has just published UK President’s letter dated May 20, in response to Rupp Arena Task Force Chairman’s April 25th letter to him essentially demanding UK’s public commitment to the project.  See the letter here:

http://kentuckysportsradio.com/basketball-2/president-capilouto-writes-a-scathing-letter-to-city-of-lexington-on-rupp-arena/

The letter is detailed, blunt, and is described by KSR as “scathing”.  In it Capilouto declines to support the project, citing lack of public support and other more pressing local, state, and UK priorities.  Given this letter, recent public polls, and legislative inaction, the proposed arena and convention center project appears to be mortally wounded.

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Water, Water Everywhere

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Zoe Strecker’s feature article on the promising future of hydro power in Kentucky, http://www.under-main.com/water-power-the-low-hanging-fruit-of-energy-alternatives/, highlights a resource which is plentiful in the Commonwealth.  In a world that is getting warmer and where many places in our country are running out of water, this could be a very big deal if this increasingly rare resource is conserved, protected, and appropriately utilized.

Here are some water facts about our fair, albeit kinda wet, state:

  • Kentucky ranks 12th among all states in average annual precipitation, with an average of approximately 49 inches.
  • Kentucky has more navigable miles of water than any state except Alaska.
  • There are more than 90,000 miles of streams, one of the most complex and expansive stream systems in the country.
  • There are 45 major lakes in Kentucky, including reservoirs.  Only three of the lakes are natural.
  • Kentuckians use more than 4.3 billion gallons of water per day and most of it is returned to streams.
  • Surface water sources (rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands) provide about 95 percent of the water used in Kentucky.
  • According to the Nature Conservancy, Kentucky ranks fourth in US in the diversity of freshwater fish species.

– Art Shechet