Archive for April, 2011

Restore the name of Clark County High School

Gen. George Rogers Clark was famous in Kentucky's history, but has no connection at all to Clark County except for the fact that the county was named for him — as counties are often named for generals, governors or presidents.

Honestly, I have nothing against George Rogers Clark. The Revolutionary War general occupies a distinguished place in the history of the American frontier — though not in the history of Clark County.

Except, of course, for the fact that the county is named for him. And that’s all right. Other counties, such as Fayette, Pulaski and Shelby, are named for heroes of the revolution who didn’t call those counties home.

George Rogers Clark’s home was Louisville, the town he established at the Falls of the Ohio. It’s likely he walked through what is now Clark County on the way to or from Fort Boonesborough a few times, but he wasn’t from here and never lived here. I don’t hold that against him.

No, my problem with keeping the general’s name for the new high school is that it is inconsistent. Nothing about the school’s colors or mascot has any connection to George Rogers Clark.

And most of us don’t call the school by its name anyway. Most call it “Clark County” or “GRC,” or even “George Rogers.” The athletic uniforms all say “Clark County,” and that’s what everyone else in the state knows it by.

Poor old George. I’ll wager that few of those who are fighting mad over the idea of changing the school’s name have the vaguest idea of who Clark was or why he was famous. Just say the words “Kaskaskia and Vincennes,” and watch them go blank.

One of the arguments for restoring the name Clark County High School is that it's the name that's always been used for the sports teams. Nowhere on the front of this championship T-shirt will you find the words "George Rogers Clark," nor will you find it on the teams' uniforms, or in the metro newspapers' sports pages, or hear it called that on TV. To the rest of the state, we're "Clark County," and that's what we should be.

When the current high school was created in 1963 from the merger of the old Clark County and Winchester high schools,  it was renamed for George Rogers Clark. But if they were going to change the name of the school, the board members should have also changed the school colors to royal blue and white with a dash of red or buff, the colors of the Continental Army, and made the school’s athletic teams the Patriots or Generals, or something that had some connection to Clark. Instead, they kept the former Clark County High School’s colors — red, white and (later) black — and its old mascot, the Cardinal.

What’s even stranger is that the school’s newspaper, Smoke Signals, kept the name that came from the former Winchester High School, whose mascot was the Shawnee.

When it comes to school mascots, Cardinals are as common as starlings. Why not choose the noble Shawnee warrior as the new mascot for a new Clark County High School? We could keep the colors red and black (the colors of Shawnee war paint) and the name of the school newspaper, Smoke Signals.

About the only name that has any appropriate connection to George Rogers Clark is that of the school’s Junior ROTC program, the Long Knives — the word the Indians used to describe the soldiers’ swords.

So, in naming the high school currently under construction on Boonesboro Road, we have an opportunity to correct some past mistakes.

If we want to keep the name George Rogers Clark, then we need to change the colors and the mascot to something connected to the Revolutionary War period. But if we want to keep the Cardinals and the colors we have now — and I think most grads have a greater emotional attachment to those things than to the name of the general — then let’s restore the original name of Clark County High School, and change the names of school organizations to be consistent with that.

Or here’s another idea: If we want to name the school Clark County High School, but also retain something of the heritage of Winchester High School, we could adopt the Shawnee as our mascot and keep the colors red and black, the colors of Shawnee war paint.

It would be fitting, because our county was the site of a large Shawnee town, Eskippakithiki. There are already too many schools with redbirds as their mascots anyway.

Not long ago, I suggested that the high school be named for another Clark, who actually did live most of his life in Clark County and was the father of Kentucky’s system of  public schools: Gov. James Clark. But that idea never caught on.

Wouldn’t that be a great name, though, for the new sixth, seventh and eighth-grade program at the old GRC campus?

Gov. James Clark Middle School sounds much more distinguished than Clark Middle, doesn’t it? Yet you could still shorten it to Clark Middle in everyday conversation.
Those are my ideas, but the school board wants yours.

You can go to GRC’s website, to fill out a form that lets school  board members and staff know what you want the new school to be called. You may either click on the box to vote to keep the name as it is: George Rogers Clark, or go to the line below and offer another suggestion. Or you may pick up a paper form at one of the local banks, fill it out, and submit it to Central Office, 1600 W. Lexington Ave., no later than Saturday, April 30.

School officials will make the decision, but they want your input. This is your opportunity to influence the outcome.

For England and St. George!

Friday was Earth Day, and Sunday, of course, is Easter. But unless you are English, an Anglophile or an Episcopalian, you probably didn’t know that today is St. George’s Day.

Raphael's St. George and the Dragon, at the Louvre.

The patron saint of England, who is remembered for having slain a dragon to protect a young maiden, was probably a real person, though the dragon myth was likely invented by English soldiers returning from the Crusades.

The real George wasn’t English at all. A third century soldier, he was martyred in Palestine for speaking out against the killing of Christians, and may have been from the town of Joppa, according to Giles Morgan’s biography.

Edward Gibbon, chronicler of the fall the Roman Empire and an iconoclast, deliberately conflated the legend of St. George with George of Cappadocia in Turkey, a corrupt archbishop who was a believer in the Arian heresy and sold bad pork to the Romans. That George was murdered by an angry mob in A.D. 362. But he isn’t our George. The saintly George was likely the one executed by the Emperor Diocletian at Nicomedia in 303.

Since then, George has been immortalized, not only as the patron saint not only of England, but also of Ethiopia, Portugal, Moscow, Barcelona and other nations and cities. A country in the Caucasus Mountains was named for him, as were hundreds of English pubs and churches, and even a former hotel here in Winchester, Ky.

George’s red cross on a white background is the national flag of England, and flies proudly at football games (what we colonials call soccer). As devolution occurs in the United Kingdom, it is slowly replacing the Union Jack as a symbol of English identity.

For some time, St. George’s image was appropriated by the country’s racist far right, which is a little ironic, considering that if George was ever in England (which is unlikely), he was an immigrant. In recent years, there has been a movement to take back the beloved saint from those the English alt rock musician Billy Bragg calls “beer-bellied shaven-headed louts.”
Bragg thinks George is the proper saint for an increasingly multi-ethnic nation. “This olive-skinned stranger from the Middle East might help us slay the dragon of English xenophobia,” he said in Time Out magazine in April 2005.

Bragg has the right attitude, but many English are embarrassed by anything that hints of patriotism, even though true patriotism is not the same thing as arrogant and aggressive nationalism. Sadly, you won’t find many Englishmen wearing red roses on St. George’s Day.

The image of St. George and the dragon is one of the images often found on British coins.

Jeremy Paxman, the caustic critic of “The English: A Portrait of a People,” described poor George as a “vague, workaday figure, of little spiritual or theological importance.” Yet he admits the saint is an apt choice for his countrymen who want to assume the “mantle of valiant integrity,” something he seems to consider a quaint notion.

As a lifelong admirer of the English character, however, I think it’s appropriate to cherish that proud heritage, and so I today I’ll raise my glass of Bass and drink a toast to England and St. George!

The Gospel According to Harry Potter

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
— 1 Corinthians 15:26

"Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows: Part 2" will be released this summer.

Since the release of British writer J.K. Rowling’s first “Harry Potter” children’s novel in 1997, the fantasy series about teenage wizards at Hogwarts School has been mired in controversy.

Many evangelical Christians claim that the stories of witchcraft are a sinister influence on young minds, and that parents shouldn’t allow their children to read the books or watch the popular movies.

Even Pope Benedict XVI described them as “subtle seductions” capable of corrupting children.

But I’ve watched nearly all of the films with my 10-year-old niece, and to me, they seem as harmless as Halloween, or the old “Dark Shadows” TV episodes my friends and I watched after school when we were kids. It is, like all good children’s literature, about the triumph of good over evil.

I’ll admit, there are sinister influences in some children’s books and movies, such as Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, which includes “The Golden Compass.” Pullman, who is an angry atheist, has openly admitted he wants to do what Pilate couldn’t: “My books are about killing God,” he said.

J.K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" books.

But J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, isn’t like that. She is a Christian and a churchgoer in a nation where the faith is dying and most don’t worship anymore.

I was surprised when I read about Rowling’s spiritual longing in John Avant’s 2009 book, “If God Were Real: A Journey Into a Faith That Matters.”

One of Avant’s arguments is that if those of us who call ourselves Christians were serious about our discipleship, we would be more concerned about real evils, such as sexual exploitation of children, slavery and poverty, instead of made-up enemies like Tinky Winky and Harry Potter.

Avant notes that Rowling was shopping with her children one day when an overly zealous defender of the faith brought his face close to hers and said, “I’m praying for you” in a menacing tone that would have been more appropriate if he had said, “Burn in hell!”

Doesn’t that sound like some Christians you know?

It turns out, Avant writes, that Rowling has kept a secret about the Harry Potter series all these years.

In the last book, “The Deathly Hallows,” of which the first two-part movie episode was released last week on DVD, Harry discovers an inscription on his parents’ tombstone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

In case you don’t recognize it, it’s from the Bible: 1 Corinthians 15:26.

In an interview, Rowling said the verse “is the theme for the entire series.”

Young Harry Potter

Imagine that: All this time that Christians have been waging a war against Hogwarts, it turns out that the series revolves around a Bible verse!

“To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious,” Rowling said in a 2007 interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

In the final installment, there are specific references to the themes of life after death and resurrection. Another theme, according to Rowling, is that love is the greatest force of all.

Love is stronger than death: I think I remember hearing or reading that somewhere.

Although she was brought up in a family of unbelievers, J.K. Rowling would slip off by herself as a child to attend church. She said, “I had this need for something that I wasn’t getting at home, so I was the one who went out looking for religion.”
Formerly an Anglican, Rowling became a member of the Church of Scotland, in which her children were baptized.

Yet it would probably be more accurate to say that Rowling is a seeker, rather than a committed believer and disciple.
“The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something that I struggle with a lot,” she said in the Telegraph interview.

And who among us, if he or she is truthful, hasn’t prayed for the faith to believe?

Rowling’s case reminds me of what Alfred Tennyson once said: that there is more faith in honest doubt “than in half the creeds.”

John Avant is right: Christian warriors need to get real and stop tilting at windmills. We must quit making opponents of “God-seeking friends.” We might even, he said, “love someone like J.K. Rowling and trust God to be a big enough boy to defend himself.”

That’ll preach.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Write to him at

All must sacrifice to lower the debt

Oliver Wendell Holmes said that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Yet for many Americans, it’s a free ride.

According to an Associated Press report released just before Tax Day (April 15), about half of all Americans pay no federal income taxes, and for the wealthy and corporations, the tax burden has fallen dramatically in recent years. For Americans as a whole, the tax burden is the lowest it has been in 60 years.

That’s something to think about, especially when we consider that our nation faces a $14 trillion deficit, and congressional Republicans’ budget plan includes such irresponsible measures as reducing the top tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and further extending Bush-era tax breaks for millionaires — despite a lack of evidence that those tax breaks helped the economy.

If we’re going to get our nation’s fiscal house in order — and we must because the Chinese and other creditors aren’t going to carry us forever — we have to have responsible spending reductions in every area of federal government. But we can’t do it without also addressing the revenue issue. It isn’t politically popular to say so, but there can be no more general tax cuts in the near future.

The idea that individual tax cuts for the wealthy spur economic growth, which in turn increases revenue is unsubstantiated, and in fact, the reverse may be true. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton proved that it’s possible to raise taxes on the wealthy and everyone benefits economically — including the wealthy. Of course, it depends on what’s happening in the economy. You don’t want to tax heavily during a recession, which is why 40 percent of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan consisted of tax cuts, and those cuts were followed by further cuts targeted for small businesses, as well as a budget compromise with Republicans to temporarily extend the Bush era tax cuts for everyone, including those in the upper bracket.

Now that the economy is recovering, though, it’s time to get realistic about both spending and taxes.

Almost everyone wants to cut spending — until they’re asked about specifics. Then they want to cut almost nothing except foreign aid, which is only about 1 percent of the federal budget.

Most of the money goes to entitlements, especially Medicare and Social Security, which the far right wants to privatize. Considering how the financial markets performed in the past two years and that Medicare is considerably more cost-effective than private insurance, that’s an argument Republicans like Paul Ryan are going to lose.

The other big ticket items are national defense, health care (especially Medicaid), income security and interest on the debt. Everything else — education, farm programs, student loans, environmental protection, community grants, and so forth — is discretionary spending that amounts to about a fifth of the budget.

The truth is, we can’t achieve fiscal sanity by slashing programs for the poor or cutting taxes for the rich. Everyone is going to have to sacrifice. The tax cuts enacted in the last decade must expire. Entitlements must be reformed along the lines suggested by the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan deficit plan. Efficiencies must be found in military spending.

It’s time to end the blame game and quit talking about idiotic ideas like a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. It’s time to make the hard decisions and share the sacrifice.

We must start now.

Late for the party

Kentucky voters should have until April to decide their party affiliation

April 18 was the last day to register to vote in Kentucky’s May 17 primary election. If you’re a new voter or you moved, and you got your card filled out before 4 p.m. Monday, you’re good to go.

But if you’re an independent, and you wanted to change your registration to Republican or Democrat so that you could vote in one of the primaries — or you wanted to switch parties — you were too late.

The deadline for changing your party registration was Dec. 31 of last year. And if you’re like most people, the next year’s primary elections are the last thing you’re thinking about during the holidays.

What’s so egregious about Kentucky’s early voter registration deadline is that citizens have to choose a party affiliation for the primary before they even know who the parties’ candidates will be.

Candidates had until Jan. 25 to file their papers to run, but voters had to file nearly a month earlier than the candidates.

That’s absurd. It is also unacceptable and undemocratic, and it must change.
Chances are you didn’t know about the Dec. 31 registration deadline, because the state doesn’t give it much publicity. And most party officials would rather you didn’t know, because it allows them more control over their membership.

Some control is reasonable. “Raiding,” which consists of voters of one party crossing over to vote for the weakest candidate in another party’s primary — to give their own party’s nominee an advantage in the fall general election — is a problem in open primary states. So is allowing independents (unaffiliated voters) to tilt a party’s primary in states where only those who are registered as independent or nonpartisan can wait until election day to decide which party’s primary they’ll vote in.

Parties are organizations that expect their members to adhere to a general political philosophy or set of tenets. It is unfair and unreasonable for their nominees to be chosen by members of another party (or no party at all) who don’t share the party’s values.

Given, however, that party loyalty has gotten weaker every generation, there should be some reasonable accommodation of those who want to base their votes on “the person, not the party,” or whose political beliefs change because of rapidly changing circumstances.

It used to be that most people were Republicans or Democrats because that’s what their families were, and they remained members of the same party all their lives. But that hasn’t been true for a long time, and those who make the rules must accept the new reality.

Kentucky is the only state that requires citizens to settle on a party affiliation so long before a primary. Iowa and New Jersey require voters to register their party status in December, but both of those states have early nomination contests, in January and February, respectively. Kentuckians, on the other hand, must decide on their party affiliation almost five months before they actually go to the polls.

In most states, people can register to vote 25 to 30 days before the primary and choose their party status at that time. Kentucky voters can also register about a month before the primary if they are doing so for the first time, or because they’ve changed their address — or for any other reason except changing their party affiliation. Why should the deadline for changing party affiliation be any different?

Requiring voters to choose a party a month before they even know who the candidates will be goes against the fundamental republican principles of open government, informed decision-making and free choice. And requiring them to register their party status almost half a year before an election goes against common sense.

It’s too late to do anything about it this year, but when the legislature meets in January 2012, there should be bipartisan legislation filed to make the date for changing one’s party affiliation the same as for changing one’s address or registering for the first time — 30 days before the election.

True American: SPJ honors Cassius M. Clay

Kentucky mansion named Historic Site in Journalism

We newspaper editors like to think of ourselves as defenders of the press, but Cassius Marcellus Clay was one editor who was actually worthy of that title.

He defended his press with cannons.

The Rev. Charles Herrick, left, and Sally Clay Lanham, center, both descendants of Cassius Marcellus Clay, admired the plaque designating Clay’s former home, White Hall in Madison County, as a Historic Site in Journalism. At right is Hagit Limor, president of the National Society of Professional Journalists, which awarded the distinction. Limor, an investigative reporter reporter from Cincinnati, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony Tuesday. EKU Public Information photo.

Clay, a 19th century legislator, ambassador to Russia and cofounder of the Republican Party, is an enigma. He was a member of the Bluegrass aristocracy, the son of Kentucky’s largest slaveholder, and owned slaves himself, yet he is best remembered as the fiery abolitionist who used his newspaper, the True American, to promote the cause of freedom for slaves before the Civil War.

While the label “hero” is overused today to refer to athletes and other celebrites, in standing up for what he believed in, Clay “defined ‘hero,’” said Hagit Limor, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

On Tuesday, SPJ dedicated Clay’s Madison County home, White Hall, as the 99th national Historic Site in Journalism. Members of Clay’s family joined journalists, students, state and local officials and others in celebrating Clay’s legacy. Among the speakers were Doug Whitlock, president of Eastern Kentucky University, which, along with its student SPJ chapter, nominated White Hall for the honor; Marcheta Sparrow, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, and Limor, an investigative reporter for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, who gave the keynote address and unveiled a historic marker denoting the designation.

Cassius Marcellus Clay was an abolitionist newspaper editor, ambassador to Russia and a founder of the Republican Party.

“The SPJ is proud to install this, and we hope many people learn not only of his viewpoint of slavery, but how [Clay] was able to use freedom of the press and his newspaper to help change the course of our history,” Limor said.

Independent, non-partisan newspapers are a recent invention, but Limor showed that Clay’s True American, while it certainly had a point of view, believed freedom of the press included freedom for all voices.

“He published letters and articles both for and against slavery,” Limor said, “and Clay published some of the very threats against his own life.” When a mob, armed with a court order, threatened him and his paper on the grounds that an abolitionist journal could not be allowed to exist in the pro-slavery Bluegrass, Clay packed up his printing press and moved it temporarily to Cincinnati, where he defiantly published it under a Lexington dateline.

Though he owned slaves at White Hall — and freed slaves — Clay’s thoughts about the peculiar institution changed, Limor said, when he came under the influence of William Lloyd Garrison, the great abolitionist.

While his advocacy of gradual emancipation was less radical than that of Garrison, and less moderate than that of his cousin Henry Clay, who believed in compensating slaveholders and sending the slaves back to Africa, Clay’s stance was bold for a member of his class and the political establishment of that time.

Among those present at the event Tuesday were two of Clay’s great-grandchildren, Sallie Clay Lanham, and the Rev. Charles Herrick, both descended from Clay’s daughter, Mary Barr Clay.

Herrick recalled his visits to White Hall as a child and as a young man, and told of the mixed feelings he had about the state spending millions of dollars to restore the mansion near Boonesborough in the late 1960s when there was so much dire poverty in the mountains of Appalachia. However, he was convinced by a Kentuckian that White Hall was an important and inspiring symbol of social justice that deserved to be restored.

White Hall, the home of Cassius Marcellus Clay, editor of the True American in the 19th century, has been named a Historic Site in Journalism by the national Society of Professional Journalists. EKU Public Information photo.

Now its status has been further enriched by the Society of Professional Journalists. Sparrow said Tuesday the “naming of White Hall as a National Historic Site in Journalism is an important designation which we will add to our impressive collection of cultural heritage sites in Kentucky.”

Coming on the day of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of what Lincoln called “a great civil war” to determine whether our nation would have “a new birth of freedom,” it is an honor that is well-deserved and long overdue. Contact Randy Patrick at

Rail revival: Back to the future for travel?

Within hours after being elected governor of Ohio last year, John Kasich declared that his state’s passenger rail service project was dead on arrival.

Although high-speed rail is the normal mode of intercity travel in England, diesel trains like this one are still used. A Frankfort development group wants to revive a diesel train service from Winchester to Louisville.

Kasich put the brakes on developing a plan to revive train travel between Cincinnati and Columbus, and Cleveland, that would have involved a $400 million federal subsidy — part of President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy and build a greener future. Kasich said the trains, which would run on reactivated freight rail lines, would be slow and under-used.

Perhaps. But given the recent turmoil throughout the Middle East, the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, annoying delays at airports and the fact that $4 per gallon gasoline prices are making long-distance travel by car forbiddingly expensive, it now appears that Kasich’s opposition to rail may have been rash.

If you’ve tried driving the interstate between Columbus and Cincinnati when traffic is heavy and trucks that weigh many tons more than your Prius are cutting you off or bearing down on you at breakneck speed, you have to wonder whether it may be our current surface transportation system that’s gone off the rails.

In Kentucky, the freeways are less clogged than Ohio’s — for now. But considering how rapidly the Bluegrass region has grown in the last decade, it may be time for our state to also take a new look at whether passenger rail is an old idea whose time has come again.

In March, the Sun reported that the Kentucky Capital Development Corporation wants to apply for a $125 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority’s Small Starts program and complete a feasibility study for a Winchester-to-Louisville passenger train service that would use the CSX line. If the project is approved, it’s possible Winchester residents could see inter-city rail service by the end of next year, according to Ralph Tharp of the Frankfort-based development group.

What that means is that commuters could travel from Winchester — in the morning, at noon or in the evening — to Lexington, Midway, Frankfort, Shelbyville or Louisville, and back for as little as $5 per trip. Travel would not only be affordable, but also safer and less stressful. Instead of having to dodge big rigs and reckless drivers, passengers could drink coffee from the train cafe, read newspapers, use their computers with wi-fi, enjoy the scenery or sleep, while the diesel train travels at 70 miles per hour.

It wouldn’t be high-speed electric rail, like millions of people use in Japan, Britain, France, Canada and most other industrial nations. But it’s an affordable move in the right direction that would allow us to determine whether there’s enough interest to build a more advanced rail network in the future.

Forty years ago this month, passenger trains stopped running in the Bluegrass — a victim of Americans’ love affair with the automobile and cheap fuel. But changes are seldom permanent, and sometimes the best vision for the future can be found by looking to the past. Passenger rail is one old way of travel that is worth another try. Clearly, our unsustainable, multi-lane asphalt-and-fossil-fuel strategy is taking us down the wrong road.

April 2011
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