Archive for June, 2011

'Journey Stories' at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum

“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation — a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way … nearly every American hungers to move.”
— John Steinbeck, from
“Travels With Charley
in Search of America”

There’s something in the American spirit that needs to wander, to explore new frontiers.

On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to be part of the Winchester Kiwanis Club’s annual luncheon at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum. It was a perfect day for a picnic — cool and bright — and the menu was a perfect sampling of American food, including barbecue from DJ’s Bar & Grill, baked beans, potato salad, iced mint tea, and best of all, Roger Davis’ fresh, homemade blackberry cobbler with Breyer’s natural vanilla ice cream.

I thought, it doesn’t get any better than this. But then it did.

The real treat was getting to view the museum’s new Smithsonian exhibit, “Journey Stories.” The traveling exhibit, brought to Winchester by the Kentucky Humanities Council and funded by a federal grant, tells the story of migration in America through photographs, paintings, recordings, models and artifacts.

The stories cover the Plymouth Foundation, riverboat journeys, the California Gold Rush, the arrival of European immigrants at Ellis Island, the West African slaves who came in chains, the construction of the great transcontinental railroads, the Dust Bowl migraton, the beginning of flight, and tourism by automobile after Henry Ford’s mass production of the “horseless carriage” made travel to national parks and and campgrounds affordable destinations to ordinary Americans.

The exhibit opened May 28 and runs through July 9.

If you want to re-live an important aspect of American history during the Independence Day weekend, I would urge you to visit the museum.
It’s open during regular hours, from noon to 4 every day except Sunday, and will be open on the Fourth of July.

And, because the Smithsonian exhibit is on display at the museum, admission is free.

The museum is located at 217 S. Main St. in what was once the old Guerrant Hospital.

For more information, call 745-1358 or visit

(One of my favorite songs about American wanderlust is Simon and Garfunkle’s America. Click here to listen and watch a YouTube video.)

Why Paul Revere isn't revered by everyone

If you’ve read any of Bernard Cornwell’s books, you know that he’s probably the foremost author of historical fiction in the world today. His research is meticulous.

Bernard Cornwell is one of the foremost writers of historical military fiction.

Recently, I read his new novel of the Revolutionary War, “The Fort,” which is about one of the greatest American catastrophes of the war for independence: the Penobscot Expedition in July and August of 1779.

In what was this country’s greatest naval disaster before Pearl Harbor, we lost nearly 40 ships and failed to take a fort the British were building at the mouth of the Penobscot River in what is now Maine.

The disaster has been largely blamed on Commodore Dudley Saltonstall for failing to engage the enemy until it was too late. But Saltonstall wanted Gen. Solomon Lovell to first take the fort, because he feared the British cannons from the high emplacement would rain down heated shot on his ships, turning them into infernos. And Lovell refused to attack without the support of Saltonstall’s Continental Navy.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but one character who comes across as particularly contemptible is the arrogant Lt. Col. Paul Revere. He insists on going his own way and living in relative luxury and safety aboard ships while his troops sleep on the ground. At the end of the book, he abandons his cannon to the British —  against orders, then packs up and leaves.

One of the true heroes of the story, Gen. Peleg Wadsworth, notices men on a schooner in the river pleading frantically for help while Revere floats by on a barge. Wadsworth orders Revere to rescue the men, but in a final act of defiance, Revere says he had no room for them because of his baggage.

Besides, he’s no longer under Wadsworth’s authority, he says.

Paul Revere was made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, but Longfellow's grandfather, Gen. Peleg Wadsworth, and others, including his own men, took issue with his "unsoldierly" conduct as an officer in the Penobscot Expedition.

While the general is screaming at Revere, warning that he’ll have him arrested, Revere makes a dismissive gesture and tells his men: “Keep rowing.”

The incident really happened, although according to some accounts, Revere’s crew went back and rescued the men on the schooner with only moments to spare before the British arrived to seize the ship.

To this day, Cornwell writes in his historical notes at the end of the novel, people in that part of Maine don’t  revere Paul Revere because they know the rest of the story.
Revere was court-martialed but only mildly reprimanded.

In addition to what Gen. Artemas Ward described as “unsoldierlike behavior tending to cowardice,” it turns out that the story of Revere’s midnight ride has been embellished. He did ride that night to warn the Americans, but so did other men, and he didn’t complete his mission because he was captured.

Revere’s great reputation is mainly the result of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, in which he singles him out among several couriers for special treatment.

What Cornwell, an expat Englishman now living on Cape Cod, found to be the “supreme irony of the story” was that the poet Longfellow was the grandson of Wadsworth, Revere’s nemesis and the general who threatened to have him arrested.

As the author shows, historical truth is often stranger than fiction.

Limbaugh tea: 100 percent unnatural

Rush Limbaugh is marketing his own brand of tea.

Just when you thought the Paul Revere stuff couldn’t get any stranger, along comes talk radio blabbermouth Rush Limbaugh with his new marketing effort, Two if By Tea.

Limbaugh is releasing his own brand of tea party-themed, bottled sweet tea just in time for the Fourth of July.

In his mission statement for the new brand, he warns: “The liberals are coming! The liberals are coming!”

He also explains that his product represents American values of capitalism and excellence and is an attempt to capitalize on the “tea party trend.”

Sort of makes you wonder what he’s been drinking, doesn’t it?

The brutish are coming! Tea partisans rewrite history

Listen, my children, and you shall hear of a “messed up” tale of Paul Revere.

Prospective presidential candidate Sarah Palin thinks the real reason Paul Revere made his midnight ride was to warn the British they had better not mess with us.

The tea party movement’s obsession with the American Revolution wouldn’t be so risible if its supporters would read some history before they rewrite it.
Recently, Sarah Palin made a gaffe about Paul Revere, then made it worse by defending her mistake.

Those who remember their grade school history know that Revere, a Boston silversmith, rode to warn the American revolutionists that “The British are coming!” Speaking at a Revolutionary War landmark in Boston, though, Palin said Revere warned the British — that they had better not try to take away Americans’ guns.

She was right about the Redcoats coming to confiscate weapons and ammunition. That was because the American militia were in open rebellion against the government. But it wasn’t why Revere rode that night. And unless he was trying to get himself shot, he probably wasn’t ringing any bells.

On Fox News, Chris Wallace offered Palin a chance to correct her mistake.

“You realize that you messed up about Paul Revere, don’t you?” he asked. But Palin wouldn’t admit it.

“I didn’t mess up,” she said.

She conceded that Revere did warn the Americans the British were coming, but his other purpose, she said, was to warn the British that “you’re not going to succeed. … You’re not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have. He did warn the British.”

“I know my American history,” she insisted.

Apparently, she does not. But she knows her political base, which includes gun nuts and anti-government fanatics.

Her answer makes it seem she also may have even been reaching out to the patriot militia movement — those private armies that are preparing to save us from what they see as the “tyranny” of the federal government.

What I want to know, though, is who will save traditional conservatism and our country from Palin, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and other misguided revolutionaries.

Activists rally in Clark for a cleaner Kentucky River

“Big Coal makes us sick.”

That was the message printed on bright orange signs held by activists at a rally on the banks of the Kentucky River in Clark County Saturday morning.
The signs had a double meaning.

Billy Edwards of Clark County, a member of the Sierra Club, spoke at a Rally for the Rivers Saturday at Three Trees Canoe/Kayak Rental. Beside him is Lauren McGrath of the Sierra Club, and behind them, members of the Green Thumb environmental club at the University of Kentucky hold a banner blaming coal companies for polluting the state's waterways. Photo by Randy Patrick

Just days after the media reported results of a study linking pollutants from mountaintop removal mining to a higher incidence of birth defects, members of the Sierra Club and other groups called on Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration to do a better job of enforcing the federal Clean Water Act.

They also demanded that politicians clean up their act with regard to coal company influence.

Former County Magistrate Billy Edwards of Trapp, a member of the Sierra Club, urged the group of more than 20 people to tell their officials not to “bend over for the coal industry. We want you to straighten up.”

Edwards called mountaintop removal mining “a sin,” and said the fact that Beshear and his Republican opponent, state Sen. David Williams of Burkesville, support the practice is evidence that they have been “bought off” by “big coal.”

Edwards said the river has high levels of mercury, arsenic and other pollutants that cause illnesses. Some of it, he said, comes from coal ash that washes down out of the mountains from mining sites. Some of it, he added, is from pesticides and farm chemical runoff.

He said a new water treatment plant being built nearby will remove most of the pollutants from the water people drink.

But, he said, “the cost of making that water drinkable is extraordinary,” and it’s a cost that is passed on to consumers by companies in the mountains that are making large profits.

Lauren McGrath, a Sierra Club organizer, said the rally on Athens-Boonsboro Road was one of the three main events of “about 10” held that day “from Paducah to Pikeville” to call attention to the need for cleaner water and to pressure the administration to enforce the regulations.

Athena Kern, 15, left, held a poster describing the effects of polluted water on wildlife. Billy Edwards said the area of the Kentucky River where the rally was held has the highest level of mercury of any place in the state, and that officials have discouraged people from eating fish caught in the river.

Following the rally at Three Trees Canoe and Kayak Rentals, the activists spent an hour paddling canoes on the river, then had lunch and listened to live music at the Waterfront Restaurant.Early this year, Beshear, a Democrat, told the Environmental Protection Agency to “get off our backs.” Recently, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has accused the EPA of waging a “war on coal.”

According to Bill Bissett, a coal industry spokesman, state and  federal officials and the industry are concerned about a new interpretation of federal law that defines carbon dioxide as a pollutant because of its probable contribution to global warming.

But McGrath said the governor has a record of increasingly lax enforcement of regulation of other kinds of pollutants as well. And many residents who live near coal mines or coal-fired power plants want stronger enforcement, she said.

The governor, however, has defended his administration’s environmental record.

McGrath said the club chose the location in Clark County because it’s near Dale Station, East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s almost 60-year-old coal-fueled electrical plant. The co-op recently backed off a plan to purchase land close by to bury coal ash. The co-op will instead store the ash on land at J.K. Station in Trapp.

McGrath said the Sierra Club wants to see the plant at Ford “retired” and replaced with alternative energy sources.

Edwards suggested wind farms and solar plants, which, he noted, are common throughout the Midwest but not in Kentucky.

East Kentucky Power is experimenting with alternative energy and uses natural gas as well as coal, but coal provides more than 90 percent of the nation’s energy.

Patrick Johnson, one of the activists at the rally who represented the Green Thumb program at the University of Kentucky, said he done some water quality research at UK’s Robinson Forest in Breathitt County and was struck by the difference between a pure, drinkable stream in the forest and another one near a mining site where the water was orange from sulfur.

Many of the streams from the mountains flow into the Kentucky.

Residents must demand improvement of water quality, he said.

“This is a rallying cry,” he said. “Tell the coal companies we’re tired of this.”

Elaine Farris the right leader for our schools

If there was any doubt about what kind of education leader Elaine Farris is, the fact that she was a recent finalist for superintendent of the state’s second largest school district should be reassuring.

Elaine Farris, Clark County's superintendent of public schools, is one of the most respected education leaders in Kentucky.

The only one of the final three I don’t know is Tom Shelton, the Daviess County superintendent the Fayette County board chose to succeed longtime leader Stu Silberman. But having observed Lu Young, Jessamine County’s superintendent, and Farris, who is in her second year as Clark’s leader, I know that either of these women also would have been an excellent choice.

In the case of Farris, it’s hard to imagine a candidate having better credentials for the position.

For one thing, she had previously served as the Fayette County District’s director of elementary schools, so she’s familiar with Lexington’s school  system. And she has strong ties to the Kentucky Department of Education, having been assistant commissioner, then acting commissioner for the state’s school system. She also has been a teacher, principal and superintendent of the Shelby County district as well as Clark.
It isn’t, however, just her resume and experience that make her such a good leader, it is her ideas and ideals.

Accountability has been the cornerstone of her leadership agenda — for students, teachers, staff, administrators and the community. As a result, our students have improved their performance, school employees know what is expected of them, and board members have a better working relationship than was true a couple of years ago.

When she became superintendent, Farris walked into the middle of a schoolyard fight. Board members were still feuding over an ill-conceived school facilities construction plan that had already been decided on by the district and the state, and some of the bickering was the result of long-simmering personality conflicts. But soon after taking the helm as the district’s chief executive, Farris told the board the petty infighting had to end. They had to work together for the good of the children and the community. And if any of the school district’s employees couldn’t get on board, she’d be happy to accept their resignation. That’s a hard thing to say when you’re new to a leadership job, but it needed saying, and I respect her for it.

Being a journalist, the other aspect of her leadership that I especially respect is transparency. She believes, rightly, that public service should be public. The first time I met her, she gave me her cell phone number and assured me that she wanted to improve the lines of communication between the schools and this newspaper, and she has been true to her word.

She has also made an effort to reach out to her constituents. Not long after she became superintendent, Audra and J.C. Young, owners of South Main Grocery, told me she had dropped by to tell them how much she appreciated their support for George Rogers Clark High School’s students and athletes. And that wasn’t an isolated incident. If there’s a prayer meeting about the drug problem in the community or some other issue affecting kids, she’s likely to be a participant.

When she was persuaded to be a candidate for Fayette County’s superintendent, she called me before I got a chance to call her — but not until after she had emailed the board members, had an early meeting with the chair and discussed it with members of her staff and principals.

I think these actions say something about the caliber of the person we have administering our schools.

When she didn’t get the job in Fayette County, I was disappointed for her because I thought she deserved it. At the same time, though, I was relieved that she would be staying here.

“I love my job in Clark County, and I think our district is going in the right direction, and I want to continue that progress,” she told Sun reporter Bob Flynn soon after the Fayette board announced its decision.

The way I see it, Fayette County’s loss is our gain, and if Farris finishes her career in Clark County, where she started it, that is likely to be a good thing for her and us.

Robert F. Kennedy in his words

On this date in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot by an assassin while reaching for the hand of a low-wage 17-year-old Mexican worker  in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, following his victory speech after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. Many believed he was America’s last best hope at a time when the country was even more politically divided than it is today.

Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy, the brother of the president, a tough attorney general, and a senator who was an advocate for the poor and forgotten, is the American leader of my lifetime that I most admire. This is not only for what he did, such as standing up for civil rights activists, working with businesses and local governments to help the inner city poor and trying to find an honorable way out of the quagmire in Vietnam, but also for what he believed and articulated so well, despite his shyness.

Here is Robert Kennedy in his own words:

“Government belongs  where evil needs an adversary, and there are people in distress who cannot help themselves.”

“The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.”

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”

“Let [television] show the sound, the feel, the hopelessness, and what it’s like to think you’ll never get out … Film a mother staying up all night to keep the rats from her  baby … Then I’d ask people to watch it and experience what it means to live in the most affluent society in history — without hope.”

“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

“Let’s dedicate ourselves to what the ancient Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

Robert F. Kennedy at a strip mine site in eastern Kentucky.

“For too long we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product now is over 800 billion dollars a year, but that gross national product, if we judge the United States of America by that, that gross national product counts air pollution, and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic squall. It counts napalm, and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our city. It counts Whitman’s rifles and Speck’s knife and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet, the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play; it does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”



Republican Party is leaving many of its faithful

Ronald Reagan was a Democrat until he was 50. A union leader who revered Franklin D. Roosevelt, he became more conservative as his party was becoming more liberal.

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, who recently left his post as ambassador to China to consider a presidential bid, is the kind of candidate who could broaden the Republican base to include younger voters, independents and moderate conservatives, and give his party a chance to win in 2012. But he isn't a hard-line right-winger, which means he likely won't get the nomination.

Frustrated with higher taxes, increasing regulation, and what he saw as an anti-business bias, Reagan became a Republican.
Later, he would say, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.”

In the 1980s, that message resonated with “Reagan Democrats.” Theirs had become the party of amnesty, abortion, welfare rights, subsidies and secularism.

Today, some moderate Republicans and even traditional conservatives feel the same way — that their party is leaving them.

One of the central tenets of conservative belief is that individualism which is not tempered by respect for traditional morality and concern for the common good is an unhealthy thing — for the individual and society. But that idea is rejected by those who prefer the philosophy of Ron Paul to that of the Apostle Paul.

True conservatives don’t easily throw caution to the wind. They think that if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. But the new breed doesn’t mind wagering everything on risky schemes. Privatizing Social Security, abolishing foreign aid, replacing the graduated income tax with a national sales tax, legalizing dangerous drugs and prostitution and turning federal regulation of coal mining over to local governments are just some of the extreme ideas they’ve advocated in recent years.

Yet they have the audacity to call President Obama’s agenda radical?

On Memorial Day weekend, there was a lot of media attention on the 2012 presidential race, especially who’s in and who’s out.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was the best hope for evangelical conservatives, is out. That’s a shame because he was as critical of Wall Street as Washington — and that plays well on Main Street.

Donald Trump also dropped out, which is a relief. The real estate mogul and reality TV star isn’t a capitalist sage, he’s a one-man freak show. Anyone who believes that the president of the United States isn’t an American shouldn’t  vote, much less run for office.

One who did throw his hat into the ring is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

His candidacy imploded at the start because he criticized Congressman Paul Ryan’s draconian budget. He also suggested subsidies for people to purchase private health insurance.

That’s really a Republican idea that predates ObamaCare by two decades. Ironically, it’s also what Ryan wants to do with Medicare.

Another irony is that Massachusetts’ health reform plan, which was a model for ObamaCare, is former Gov. Mitt Romney’s signature achievement, but he can’t run on it.

It shows how far to the right the Republican Party has moved when you consider that Gingrich, the leader of the last rightist revolution, is no longer seen as a true believer by the Young Turks.

Several establishment conservatives could be good choices, but they’re not running. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is out, Florida’s Jeb Bush is playing hard to get, and past favorites like Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel aren’t even mentioned.

If Republicans want to win, they should nominate someone who can attract centrist Democrats and independents as well as regular Republicans. Romney would be a good choice, but I like his cousin, Jon Huntsman.

His resume is impressive. He has been a business executive, a governor, and has foreign policy expertise, most recently as Obama’s ambassador to China. But that paints him as a turncoat to partisans.

Also, Huntsman, who is the same age as Obama, has generational appeal.

What the hard right doesn’t understand is that it won’t win by appealing only to the base.

This is a center-right country. With the exception of Reagan, no doctrinaire conservative has won the office since Calvin Coolidge. And Reagan would be considered almost a moderate by today’s standards.

Democrats lost the 2010 election after winning big in 2006 and 2008 because they lost independents and the elderly.Republicans won’t keep those swing segments if they scorn bipartisan compromise and take a hard line on Medicare and Social Security.

At a Memorial Day party, an uncle whom I respect although I often don’t agree with him, said he didn’t think the Republicans had anyone who could “beat Obama.”

He may be right. Any president is unpopular during a recession (remember Reagan was in 1982). But this liberal president has governed as a centrist, and he has a good record. He and his party prevented a financial meltdown. He saved General Motors from collapse. And he kept his promise that if he found Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan, he would send U.S. troops in to kill him.

If Obama keeps to the center, working with both parties to reduce the debt, revive the economy and maintain the tough defense policy that is basically a continuation of President George W. Bush’s, he may defy the odds and win.

If the Republican Party nominates a fringe candidate like Sarah Palin or Rick Perry, it will cause moderates and Main Street conservatives to feel the party has left them, and they’ll walk away. And they’ll lose.

That’s the lesson Republicans should learn from Reagan’s midlife conversion.

June 2011
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