Archive for November, 2014

The first Thanksgiving

Nov. 25, 2014

(This is a shorter, edited version of an earlier post.)

Myles Standish wasn’t so upstanding, and the Puritans weren’t so pure. And inviting the Indians to dinner was just politics.

Schoolchildren know the sterile version of the story: In 1620, the Pilgrims sailed to America to escape a tyrannical king and gain religious freedom. They landed on Plymouth Rock and established the first settlement. The Indians, led by Squanto, befriended them, taught them how to fertilize corn with fish and saved them from starving. The grateful Pilgrims invited the Indians to join them for a big turkey dinner and offered prayers of thanks. But what if what we know about the first Thanksgiving is mostly wrong?

In his book, “A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving,” Godfrey Hodgson makes a convincing argument that the feast recorded in 1621 by Edward Winslow wasn’t a Puritan thanksgiving at all, but a harvest celebration that was interrupted by a force of Indians.

The Separatists (they weren’t called Pilgrims with a capital “P”) showed their gratitude to God by fasting, not feasting. Being strict Calvinists, they didn’t celebrate holy days (holidays) because they considered them superstitious relics of Catholicism. Being English, they did celebrate the medieval harvest festival with food, beer, wine and games.

These wanderers or “pilgrims” were called Separatists because they wanted to separate from the established Anglican Church, but were willing to deceive King James by swearing fealty to the established church in exchange for being granted a colony. They had been run out of England, and in liberal Amsterdam some of their women dressed provocatively, and there were charges of sexual misconduct. The Separatists then left Holland, sailed for Virginia and wound up in Massachusetts by mistake.

They did not land on a rock, which would have splintered their ship. It remained a mile offshore, and they landed in longboats.

As early as 1621, the English settlers of Plymouth had hostile encounters with the Indians, whom they stole from, kidnapped and sold into slavery. White men had been coming to New England since John Cabot established Newfoundland in 1497, and by the time the colonists arrived, “thousands of European sailors were accustomed to spending the summers fishing” on northern coast, according to Hodgson.

Squanto, who had been captured and enslaved, escaped from Europe and made his way back to America, where he became an English translator for the Wampanoag chief Massasoit.

Standish, no Puritan, was a soldier for hire who “thought nothing of cutting off an Indian’s head if he thought it was the right thing to do,” Hodgson wrote.

The Wampanoags were at war with the Narragansetts and Massachusetts, and 100 Wampanoag warriors showed up at the Separatists’ feast with freshly killed deer (not turkey) as a gesture of goodwill to enlist the English in their fight.

“It was a kind of backwoods diplomatic encounter,” Hodgson wrote.

The alliance didn’t last. Within a generation, Massaoit’s son, King Philip, united the tribes against the English, who were depleting their natural resources and spreading diseases such as syphilis. The English won King Philip’s War and had the chief beheaded and quartered to underscore their point.

American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris portrayed the Pilgrims as gracious hosts to the Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Godfrey Hodgson says it was frontier diplomacy involving a power struggle with other tribes.

The Pilgrims were not rugged individualists at first, but were communists who, like the early Christians, held their property in common and provided for each other’s needs. But communism has never worked in practice, and when the families started providing for their own needs, the colony prospered.

The story of the first Thanksgiving is, according to Hodgson, an example of what historians call “the invention of tradition.” While it is fiction, however, it is not fraud. It is, as Hodgson described it, a story that has been shaped into a “powerful and virtuous symbol.” It has become a “domestic celebration of gratitude, humility and inclusiveness.” Those are qualities for which we need not apologize.

Regardless of how it began, Thanksgiving has become a celebration of all that is good about America. It is a tribute to faith, family and country, and generosity of spirit.

And that is why it is, in my opinion, it is the best of all American holidays.

Honestly, Abe Lincoln did not say that

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” — Abraham Lincoln

This satirical “quotation” is one I recently posted on Facebook for laughs.

It’s a tribute to the sagacity of America’s greatest president that many of us want to give Lincoln credit for things he didn’t say when did say so much that is worth repeating.

I’m usually careful about verifying the authenticity of anything I read on the Internet, but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t careful enough.

In my Nov. 9 column, I wrote about what it means to be a “Lincoln Republican.” I included this quote attributed to Lincoln about the dangers to democracy caused by the stratification of wealth:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

I attempted to verify its authenticity and learned it was included in a letter to a Col. William F. Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864.

It reflected Heather Cox Richardson’s description of Lincoln’s views in her history of the Republican Party, “To Make Men Free.” She describes the Kentucky of Lincoln’s youth as a place where the slaveholding aristocracy made it hard for men like his father to get ahead because the wealthy owned the best land and controlled the government and its laws.

In 1816, the Lincolns moved north of the Ohio River, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established a land of opportunity by prohibiting slavery and primogeniture, the tradition of a landowner bequeathing all of his property to the eldest son to keep large estates intact. The Republican Party was later founded there on such egalitarian ideals.

The quote also mirrored Lincoln’s speech of Dec. 1, 1861, in which he weighed the importance of labor and capital: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It turns out, however, that the wealth quote was a fabrication, though an old one.

Tom Hall, a history enthusiast, raised the red flag. In an email the day after my Sunday column, he said the quote seemed “a little too prescient, as if old Abe could see 30 or so years into the future to the day of the big railroads, Standard Oil and the Carnegie steel mills. In other words, this smells like the ‘quote’ is an Internet fraud, and you fell for it.”

Did I ever.

This is what Snopes.com, a website that researches information on the Internet to determine its veracity, said about the supposed letter of 1864: “These words did not originate with Abraham Lincoln … they appear in none of his collected writings or speeches, and they did not surface until more than 20 years after his death (and were immediately denounced as a ‘bold, unflushing forgery’ by John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary). This spurious Lincoln warning gained currency during the 1896 presidential election season (when economic policy, particularly the USA’s adherence to the gold standard, was the major campaign issue), and ever since then it has been cited and quoted by innumerable journalists, clergymen, congressmen, and compilers of encyclopedias.

So I’m not the first journalist who fell for it. But that doesn’t make it less inexcusable.

I owe you an apology for being so easily taken in, and will be more diligent next time.

Gov. Jerry Brown — 40 years on

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before there was a tea party, before Bill Clinton declared the era of big government “over,” even before the Reagan Revolution, there was Jerry Brown.

The son of a 1960s California governor, Brown was elected governor himself in 1974. He was an enigma. A former Jesuit seminarian who practiced Zen meditation, he dated country rock music star Linda Ronstadt, slept on the floor of a rented room and drove himself to work in a Plymouth rather than live in the opulent governor’s mansion and ride in the back of a limo.

A Democrat like his father, Edmund G. Brown Sr., the young governor defied ideological labels. He stood with Cesar Chavez and Hispanic farm workers against California’s agribusiness interests, yet he was a small-is-beautiful candidate, preaching limited government and riding a wave of property tax revolt to victory.

He was far more frugal than his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who had signed into law the largest tax increase in the state’s history and nearly doubled spending despite his popular image as a fiscal conservative.

Jerry Brown was the first politician I idolized. I was 15 when he ran for president in 1976, winning primaries against Jimmy Carter, despite having entered the race at the 11th hour. I followed his career as he ran for the White House again in 1980, and in 1992 on a flat-tax, anti-establishment platform.

Brown served as a missionary with Mother Teresa in India, became the tough-as-nails mayor of one of America’s toughest cities, Oakland, and earned a reputation as a crime-fighting attorney general.

In 2010, Brown was elected again as governor at a time when the state was in fiscal crisis, following the market collapse, recession and the administration of liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that race, he beat billionaire eBay executive Meg Whitman. In one of the most bizarre commercials of the campaign, Whitman’s own words were used to endorse Brown. It quoted her as saying, “30 years ago, anything was possible in this state,” and that was why, Whitman explained, she came to California.

Then the commercial reminded voters it was Brown who was governor when Whitman went there, and he who had cut waste, balanced the budget, cut taxes by $4 billion and helped create 1.9 million new jobs.

Very clever, and very effective.

When he first ran for governor, Brown was 36 and a bachelor with movie-star good looks. Today he is bald, married and 76, making him both the oldest and youngest governor in the state’s history.

According to an Oct. 28 story on Politico, Brown, with a 58 percent approval rating in an era of anti-incumbent feeling, is almost certain to defeat his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, Tuesday — almost 40 years to the day of winning his first term.

According to Politico, during his current term, Brown has led his state in turning a $25 billion deficit into a $4 billion surplus, got voters to approve California’s first broad-based tax increase in 25 years, and presided over the creation of a million new jobs and a 4 percent drop in unemployment.

Jerry Brown, who was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” by the late Mike Royko, the Chicago newspaper columnist, is a bit eccentric; that’s true, but so is California.

It may be that Brown’s strange mashup of hippie philosophy, Clint Eastwood frontier justice and budgetary austerity may be just what the Sunshine State needs now.

 

What would Abe, Teddy, Ike and Jack do?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Jack Kemp’s daughter Judith sat with me in the lobby of Berea College’s Boone Tavern for an interview about her father’s presidential campaign.

It was 1988 — 20 years after the ill-fated campaign of another New Yorker, Robert F. Kennedy, who reminded me of Judith’s father — so we talked about the similarities.

Jack Kemp (Politico.com)

Both appealed to blacks, blue collar workers and the poor, and cared about their interests. Both hated welfare dependency and preferred federal efforts to create opportunity. Kemp wanted to establish enterprise zones in depressed urban areas and foster public-private cooperation to give people in those neighborhoods a hand up. Kennedy had modeled the same approach in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant.

When I asked Judith why her father cared more about helping the disadvantaged than the affluent, she said it was because he remained true to the original principles of his party. Her father was, she explained, a “Lincoln Republican.”

If only there were more of them around today.

Kemp didn’t become president, but he became President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of housing and urban development and was able to put more emphasis on housing vouchers and home ownership than public housing projects. When I went to Washington, D.C., in October 1989 to cover a demonstration on behalf of the homeless, Kemp was one of the few in Washington who cared enough to speak to us. Almost everybody else had gone home.

Moderate, sensible, prudent approaches to helping the hurting appeal to some of us more than bureaucratic social engineering and throwing money at problems. There have been other examples, such as President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms and expansion of the earned income tax credit, and President George W. Bush’s emphasis on community and faith-based initiatives that work because they take a holistic approach to helping people help themselves.

It should be disconcerting to those who love our country when those on the right sneer at the Bushes for their “compassionate conservatism” and cheer when a debate moderator asks presidential candidates about pulling the plug on an uninsured man in a hospital.

There has been plenty of talk about the fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and after the GOP’s romp in last week’s general election, it’s a discussion worth having.

If future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP party bosses work with President Barack Obama to find common ground on issues such as reforming the Affordable Care Act, finding a reasonable solution to illegal immigration, cutting the corporate income tax and reducing college students’ debt, I think the party and the country will flourish. However, if they insist on taking away the health insurance of millions of Americans, lowering taxes for the rich and opposing higher wages for the working poor, deregulating finance, which caused the economic collapse and recession, and ignoring the growing stratification of wealth in this country, they will lose in 2016 as surely as Newt Gingrich’s revolutionaries of 1994 lost in 1996.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter to a colonel in the U.S. Army: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower made similar warnings about serving the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

After Barry Goldwater, the John Birch Society and other forerunners of today’s libertarians and tea partiers took control of the Republican Party in 1964 and led it to disaster, prudent Republicans such as William Scranton and John Sherman Cooper took it back and made it again a party capable of governing.

McConnell was part of that restoration, and although he has shown himself to be a chameleon in adapting to his political landscape, he’s also the one who worked with Joe Biden to save us from the insanity of the radical right and the intransigence of the radical left.

My hope is that McConnell and other Republican leaders will return the party and the country to the principles of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kemp, and not lead us down the primrose path that leads to destruction of the republic and everything America means to the world.

Talking with the dead – a skeptic’s story

Oct. 28, 2014

When my niece was a toddler, my sister was startled to hear her laughing and talking to someone when only the two of them were home.

“Who are you talking to?”” Kim asked when she burst into her daughter’s bedroom.

“That lady there in the window,” Kamille answered. “She’s waving to me.”

There was no one at the window.

Kim and her husband, Stan, who were newlyweds, had moved into Stan’s grandmother’s house soon after the old woman died. Kamille never knew the woman that her older cousin, Kelsey, called Great Ma.

Sometime after the incident, Stan’s mom was showing the family some old photographs and asked Kamille if she recognized anyone in a group picture.

Yes, the little girl said, pointing to her great-grandmother and telling Grammy it was the lady who had visited her that day at the window and made her laugh.

“That’s Great Ma,” she said.

Let me say this for the record — I don’t believe in ghosts. But there are things I can’t explain.

Once when I was living in Nicholasville, for example, there was an elderly woman who lived next door who would pester me to take dictation for her whenever she wanted to write a letter to the editor or an announcement because he hands shook.

So one day after work, as the sun was going down, I was sitting with her in the living room of her 19th century house, surrounded by her memories, as she showed me pictures and talked about the people in her past.

I was bored and hoping she would get on with the task at hand when I happened to notice a woman in a dress walk past the doorway in the darkened room behind us.

I started, and my elderly neighbor noticed my astonishment. Her ancient eyes shone as she asked me, “What? Did you see someone in there?”

“I thought I saw a woman,” I said.

She just smiled and didn’t mention it again, and I never saw nor heard the mystery woman the rest of the time we were there.

Like many children, I had grown up with ghost stories. My mother’s family, who were tenant farmers, lived in a huge antebellum farmhouse with outbuildings that had once been slave quarters. Sitting around the old coal stove or the kitchen table, they would tell “true” stories. Once, for example, my cousin Eddie had come in from working in the field to get a cold drink and for several minutes heard footsteps above the kitchen. But no one used that because the only access to it was by an outside staircase that had been torn down many years ago.

That old house terrified me. I’d have dreams that I was floating from my bed toward empty rooms where I didn’t want to go.

My parents, however, assured me there was no such thing as ghosts, and I believed them. Later, I was taught in the holiness church I grew up in that the spirits of loved ones are no longer with us, but demonic spirits sometimes disguise themselves as spirits of the dead, and can’t be believed because they serve the Father of Lies.

However, I was also taught that the Bible warns us not to consult spiritists who conjure the dead, and that King Saul had a medium conjure the spirit of the prophet Samuel. Yet another biblical verse says that “the dead know nothing … for the memory of them is forgotten.” That seems a little ambiguous to me.

Last Friday night, I participated in the Spirits of Wickland tour at the old Bardstown mansion that was the home of a family that produced two Kentucky governors and a governor of Louisiana. The group gathered in the basement as the medium passed around copper dowsing rods so that the guests could ask questions of the spirit of a slave boy, Antoine.

I didn’t do it because I was there as an impartial observer, and besides, I don’t believe in ghosts.

Later, though, when I was transcribing the audio recording of the guests laughing and asking the spirit questions about whether someone was going to have a baby or get a job promotion, I heard a ghostly whisper that sounded like it was only inches from the microphone. I played it again and again to make sure I had heard it.

The words sounded like “an quoi,” which, according to Google, means nothing in French or any other language. Or maybe the words were, “Ask why.”

It was the kind of spectral voice you only hear in a horror film, and it made chills run up my spine when I heard it on the recording, because I didn’t hear it when I was actually there in the cellar.

I still don’t believe in ghosts — but I wouldn’t stay overnight alone in Wickland’s basement.

What a community newspaper should be

Oct. 3, 2014

What is journalism for?

That’s a simple but essential question we’ve been grappling with in our weekly newsroom meetings as we’ve worked to craft a mission statement for The Kentucky Standard and PLG-TV.

As a reporter and former editor, it’s something I’ve given some thought to over time, and these are some of the conclusions I’ve reached.

• The first purpose of journalism is to tell the truth without fear or favor so that people have the information they need for democratic government.

This is a principle I’ve held to my entire career and one well-defined by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel in their primer, “The Elements of Journalism,” which I recommend to everyone, not just journalists.

The phrase “without fear or favor” is a motto of The New York Times, which is still the gold standard of American journalism.

There’s a good reason “the press” is given special mention and protection in the Bill of Rights, and it’s that it has a special responsibility.

Democracy cannot exist without freedom of information, and we should honor that by making reporting on government our highest priority, even if it isn’t what sells the most papers in this cynical and apathetic age.

Selling papers isn’t what this profession is primarily about; it’s about public service.

• A newspaper is a sacred trust. Any paper worth its name must put the public interest and integrity before profit or politics. If it doesn’t, it will fail and it will deserve to fail.

If our sources in government think we care more about controversy for the sake of page views than about the important work they do day in and day out, they will lose trust in us, and so will our more intelligent and thoughtful readers. And they are the ones who are our most loyal customers and the people who lead our communities — usually quietly and without necessarily being out front.

• Journalism is, to use Kovach and Rosentiel’s phrase, a “discipline of verification.” Even in the Internet age, with its fierce competition for information, it is more important to get the story right than to get it first or fast.

Credibility is our stock in trade. Without it, we have nothing.

• Besides being accurate, we must be fair. There is no such thing as an objective person — each of us carries his own baggage — but journalists must be aware of their biases and be careful not to let them influence how we cover the news.

Reporters should be mindful of keeping our opinions off the front page. But even on the editorial page, where we are expected to offer our opinions, we should strive to be fair and independent — especially independent of politics, advertising and financial influence.

• Information technology is changing at warp speed, and newspapers must become multimedia companies that deliver information quickly on many platforms. In doing so, however, they must not sacrifice accuracy, fairness, good writing and editing, and compelling images and design.

Our business model should be based on the knowledge that there are enough intelligent and discerning people out there who are willing to pay for trustworthiness and quality.

• We must always remember that our newspaper belongs not to us, but to our community. It must be a forum for respectful community dialogue involving our readers. And we must never fail to treat those readers, our customers, our sources and the people we report on with consideration and respect.

I’ve been involved in community journalism in one way or another for almost 30 years, and I’m aware that not everyone in the business shares my judgments on these matters, but many do. I offer them here as mine and mine alone.

Signs of change in Bardstown

Sept. 27, 2014

Giant purple gorillas.

Dancing stick people.

Millions of metallic streamers.

Signs stretching into the stratosphere.

Nicholasville Road was a freak show.

As editor of the weekly in Nicholasville, I was a relentless advocate for better planning, and what I had in mind for U.S. 27 was something like U.S. 31E and Ky. 245 in Bardstown — clean, uncluttered, classy.

Inviting.

Recently, a politician asked me why I had chosen Bardstown. Caught off guard, I said the work brought me here. And I liked the people and the place.

Later that day, I wished I had told him why I think our city is pleasant and prosperous.

In a word, it’s beauty.

When Rand McNally named our little burgh the Most Beautiful Small Town in America in 2012, it was only for a year, but we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

Aging gracefully means not neglecting the things that matter, so it’s fitting, especially during a local election year, to give thought to what makes our town beautiful and what it means for our future.

Although Bardstown is Kentucky’s second-oldest city, it doesn’t look old in the sense of being derelict. Our architectural heritage is meticulously preserved. Whether it’s Georgian townhouses from the early 19th century or Craftsman bungalows from the early 20th, the houses in the historic district are mostly well kept.

That wasn’t true in Winchester when I lived in an elegant old neighborhood that had seen better times. I’d call it “shabby genteel.” The difference is that in Bardstown, owners in the historic area are required to keep up their property and are given generous tax incentives to do so.

In Nicholasville, too, I lived in an area surrounded by buildings that dated back to about the time the county was founded in 1798. But right in the middle of it was a convenience store that stuck out like a red hoodie at a black tie affair. Maybe there’s a place for plastic displays, vinyl siding, LED lights and tall signs, but it wasn’t that place.

I was told by local officials then that a convenience store “is what it is,” and residents of that area needed one. But here in Bardstown, we have a Five Star on East Stephen Foster Avenue that blends in beautifully with its surroundings. The store is covered in brick that has a vintage look, there are no high signs, and it doesn’t clash with the historic homes and offices around it.

We’ve shown that even a filling station can look good.

Stringent requirements on building design and historic preservation make our city a better place for everyone, and make it more attractive to residents, customers and businesses wanting to locate in a place that has a good quality of life.

Our sign ordinance is also restrictive, for the same reason.

It’s always baffled me why car dealers in most towns think they must have those gawd-awful streamers and balloons. Like you can’t tell that the place with the rows of shiny F-150s is a Ford dealership? And why does a Wendy’s need a sign that’s so high it poses a hazard to low-flying aircraft? It doesn’t.

Sign clutter makes it harder, not easier, to find businesses, and it makes an area look trashy.

If we look hard enough, we can find regulations that are unnecessarily restrictive or outdated. I see nothing wrong, for example, with allowing downtown shops to have sandwich boards, if they’re tasteful, like the little wooden chalk board signs in front of businesses on Third Street. But big, bright yellow plastic A-frames on wheels with changeable plastic letters won’t do.

Likewise, electronic reader boards at the Walgreens on Ky. 145, where cars speed by on a four-lane highway a good distance away from the store might be appropriate, but putting the same kind of sign at Crume Drug Store on Flaget in the heart of the historic district shouldn’t be allowed.

Different situations require different regulations.

What we’ve been doing here in Bardstown in terms of planning and historic preservation is a model for our commonwealth and our country. We need to think hard about making changes to rules and standards that have served us well for many decades.

Unbridled freedom has unintended consequences.

Whiskey women — an acquired taste

Sept. 24, 2014

Whiskey and women have been a volatile combination for me, so when my editor, Forrest Berkshire, asked if I’d like to cover a talk on “whiskey women” last week, I said yes, but without enthusiasm.

First, a little background.

When I was a reporter for a daily newspaper, I was smitten by a beautiful and intelligent college student I met on a bus on the way to a rally in Washington, D.C. My infatuation was unrequited, so one night after talking with her best friend about the hopelessness of my desire, I drowned my sorrows in a bottle of bourbon.

The next morning at a Fiscal Court meeting, while someone was proposing a tax increase or a big outlay of taxpayers’ money, I passed out. The presenter, I was told, said he thought someone might faint, but he didn’t think it would be a reporter.

Before I could object, the paramedics, who were there for the meeting, had me on a stretcher and out the front door of the courthouse and past a crowd of gawkers. Because it was raining, someone pulled the sheet over my face, and by the time I got to the hospital — if I may borrow a quote from Mark Twain — rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated.

I was mortified but not ready for the morticians.

The paper I worked for paid pauper’s wages (which I misspent), so I had to moonlight as a pizza delivery driver for a few weeks to pay off my chauffered trip to the ER — which resulted in a column about my “pie by night” enterprise. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first persons I encountered while wearing my Marco’s Man costume was the lovely young lady who had been the object of my misplaced affection. She looked confused, and I felt ridiculous.

That’s just one story involving whiskey and women. There are others as embarrassing.

Let’s just say they were teachable moments.

Twenty-five years later, I’m not a bourbon drinker. I like Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, bourbon bread pudding and bourbon-flavored everything. But, except for the rare bourbon on the rocks with my coworkers at Xavier’s, I tend to avoid the spirit in its pure form.

I might tip the scales at 280 pounds, but when it comes to holding my liquor, I’m a lightweight, so I practice moderation.

Since moving to Bardstown two years ago, however, I have come to appreciate bourbon lore, the sweet scent of sour mash on splendid autumn days — and whiskey women.

Not the ones like Toby Keith’s “Little Whiskey Girl” — “rough” and “ragged on the edges.” Some of the finest and most elegant ladies I’ve met around town are women who are in some way connected to the bourbon industry.

Which brings me back to where I was going with this — the lecture.

Fred Minnick, author of “Whiskey Women: How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey,” does the fair gender justice in his treatment of the important role women have played in the development of whiskey. After hearing his fascinating talk, I have a deeper respect for female pioneers and entrepreneurs — like Margie Mattingly Samuels, who came up with the Maker’s Mark name and the distinctive red wax design — as well as a new generation of bourbon businesswomen.

Strong women and strong spirits are acquired tastes.

Let’s just call it a teachable moment.

——

During a presentation on cocktails by Joy Perrine, the “Bad Girl of Bourbon,” Jude Talbott asked how I could be in Bardstown and Scotland at the same time, because he had seen pictures on Facebook and read my posts about the referendum on Scotland’s independence. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I’ve been obsessed with the subject because I love Britain and was thrilled the Scots voted to remain part of that great union.

However, I’ve never actually visited Scotland. I’ve traveled by train through the Garden of England, overlooked the dreaming spires of Oxford, trod the bricks of Grafton Street in Dublin and witnessed fairytale rainbows on Antrim’s craggy coast, but the part of those pleasant isles I’ve never seen is the country of my ancestry, Scotland. It’s on my bucket list, though, and when I get there, I hope it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

“What we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder,” said one of my favorite Scots, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

I’ll drink to that.

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