Apr 222010

NOC staff

James Baker Hall: Elbow of Light, premiering in Lexington on Friday, April 30, is not quite documentary and not quite biography—it may best be described as a meditation on art, spirit, and tenacity in the life of one of Kentucky’s most celebrated teachers and creators. Shot in the year before Hall’s death, the film offers intimate interviews with him and his wife, writer Mary Ann Taylor-Hall. Hall discusses the tragedy of his childhood, his life-long recovery from that tragedy, his life as an artist and teacher, and his method of working. Continue reading »

Apr 222010

Kent State at UK, part II

By Richard Becker

In Spring of 1970, the Richard Nixon Administration began to expand the war in Indochina beyond the borders of Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia. Antiwar sentiment had already been simmering for years in the United States, particularly among students. This was no less true right in the heart of the Midwest at Kent State University where, forty years ago on May 4, 1970, several dozen rifle shots changed the course of American history and galvanized opposition to the war in Vietnam.

That day, on May 4, students at Kent gathered on campus—as their compatriots at schools across America did—to demonstrate against the US incursion into Laos and Cambodia. Continue reading »

Apr 222010

Liberate CentrePointe

Lexington is now entering its second summer growing season without breaking ground on the CentrePointe block. With the exception of some stealthy picnics, an Irish festival and a couple minutes—total—of stolen sports action, an entire downtown city block has been rendered off limits to an entire city for nearly one-and-a-half years, an urban dead zone with suburban lawn aesthetics.

For this pathetic state of affairs we should blame ourselves. We spent a good amount of time last summer imagining the CentrePointe of our dreams, but not so much time, as Tom Eblen might say, doing something about it. When CentrePointe went out to pasture, so did we.

With that in mind, we call on Lexington residents to demand and claim their right to the block.

Follow the lead of those everyday artists who make the city come alive through their papered announcements stuck on wooden electric poles and abandoned magazine racks. Draw up your own plans for the CentrePointe block and staple, paste and etch them into the planks of the CentrePointe fences that keep you out. Paper the block alive once again with your poetry and prose, your cartoons and artist renderings. Record and inscribe the block’s past and its future, what it once was and what it can be.

One idea is easily discarded, torn down, forgotten. Twenty can carefully be swept under the grass clippings. But two-hundred, two-thousand ideas covering the CP fences? That is something else, something else altogether.

But we mustn’t stop with symbolic action. We must demand that the space be used productively. This year. And we should demand this in public and as loud and as often as possible.

Dudley Webb has already stated that he will not disturb the CentrePointe site until after the World Equestrian Games. The area is essentially rendered inert for the summer and part of fall. This is an unacceptable use of that central space. The best productive use of CentrePointe is not as an unusable and excessively large front lawn—its current situation. We demand more.

The rights of private property are not inviolable. They must be questioned, tested and at times even trampled upon. We–everyone but the small group of people who own the land–can no longer remain inactive on the false premise that unused Webb property is sacred.

We demand a public garden whose main purpose will be to help feed the poor, hungry and homeless–people whom many Lexingtonians finally discovered last week during the Creative Cities Summit when Bill Strickland spoke about his experiences in poor Pittsburgh. Such an idea for the block is surely something that city residents can support—at least those who have been talking in public and in print, on the campaign trail and in conference meetings, of the need to merge “creative” acts with issues of social justice. Having our community leaders support and lay the groundwork for such a venture—to demand and not just to ask for it to happen—could be quite a thing to see.

The public input of our civic, creative, agricultural and community leaders will be important as the rest of us—either with or without the support of those leaders (though hopefully with it)–begin to till the earth and plant our seeds. Our job is to do the most creative (and simple) of acts: doing. The immediate future of CentrePointe need not be decided by them. It can be decided by you.

Who will be the first to paper the fencing? Who will take the first soil sample? What farm groups will offer their time to utilize a 1-season garden in a place that is ground zero for public visibility? What politicians will offer political support? Who will transgress that most sacred of laws, private property, and demand that the city be run according to its inhabitants’ needs—and not the failed desires of its owners? What cultural centers will publicly endorse trespassing to do something they themselves know is right? What support networks–legal, social, economic–will we demand and work towards in this city, in this summer of growing?

Apr 172010

Learning from Eagle Creek and Jeff Biggers

By Herbert Reid

Jeff Biggers is right. All of us, every living being on planet Earth, have entered the age of climate destabilization and now live in the coalfields. Most scientists agree that the main source of emerging climate problems is the soot and carbon dioxide from burning oil and coal. As climate scientist Will Steffen put it in 2005: Before, if we screwed up, we could move on. But now we don’t have an exit option. We don’t have another planet.” We need to understand coal’s central role in our clean-energy challenge and the urgency of finding paths of transition to what Biggers calls a coal-free future. Check out his powerful book Reckoning on Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (New York: Nation Books, 2010).

The book’s introduction begins with the words of a well-known coal state politician, Barack Obama. Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Senator Obama recommended a fast-track for “clean-coal” technology and proclaimed the USA “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” The next year as President, Mr. Obama repeated the phrase but also noted that this “cheap energy source … creates a big carbon footprint.”

Big Coal or what I sometimes call our Fossil Fuel Sector has made the propaganda of clean-coal familiar to every Kentuckian, often with a derogatory view of the science of climate change. In Kentucky the industry also attempts to popularize the view that because electricity is “cheap “everyone profits from coal. Members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth such as Teri Blanton working with its “Canary Project” have provided a different accounting of costs reinforcing the agenda of a renewable energy future.

Jeff Biggers also wants his readers to grasp that coal has not been “cheap.” He invites the President to get out of his tourist entourage and take a more serious and historically grounded look at our “Saudi Arabia of coal.” As Betsy Taylor and I put it in our new book on recovering the commons, “to trot the globe is not to inhabit a world.” Biggers challenges the President and many others to move beyond the all too familiar resource object image. Reckoning at Eagle Creek restores coal’s real world of economics, politics, and historical change—and the human and ecological ruins left behind. These are “externalities” only in the unworldly calculations of an economics unable to acknowledge the practices of sustainable communities.

In many ways, the Biggers family homestead on Eagle Creek in southern Illinois, known since 1849 as the Oval Hill Farm, operates as the focal place of this remarkable study. Oval Hill serves as a tangible reminder that footprints, even and especially carbon footprints, make imprints on the land, its people, their pasts and futures. The prologue ends as Jeff recalls his mother and uncle, standing in the midst of Oval Hill’s ruins, detecting a remaining patch of corn “growing out of the rubble in defiance of the strip minethat replaced the farm.

The cultural geography in the vicinity of Eagle Creek carries names such as the Shawnee Hills, the Shawnee National Forest, and Shawneetown. Assisted by Shawnee activist Barney Bush and others, Jeff probes the ruins, as it were, of the Great Salt Spring. (It has been said that the French Revolution was sparked in part by a salt tax. In any case salt as a food preservative has been important to the human diet).

By 1836, Biggers notes, “coal had increasingly replaced wood as the main fuel” at the furnaces extracting salt around Eagle Creek. His work revives submerged stories of the removal of Native Americans and the work of both black and Indian slaves in Illinois of the 1700s. What he refers to as “the entangled roots of slavery and coal” are shrouded in historical silence(s) and not as easily unearthed as you might think. His study weaves in contributions from Appalachian scholars such as historian Ron Lewis. Biggers helps the reader’s appreciation of complementary developments, e.g. between southern Illinois and the Kanawha River Valley of West Virginia.

Utilizing critical ideas from social theorists concerning power, history, and culture, the middle chapters forge an engrossing historical narrative of the politics of work that connects slave labor to the battles over unionization in the 20th century. Biggers shows that while slavery was an issue along Eagle Creek, in the decades after the Civil War such matters were often subjected to erasure or trivialization. One aspect of Jeff’s reclaiming of Eagle Creek’s history is his redemption of “the secret knowledge of the old-timers.”

As Biggers is well aware, there are other connections with Appalachian history and politics. The destruction of our “Eagle Creeks”—wherever they are and however it is done—bereaves us all. Their loss is registered in the pollution of the Atmospheric Commons on which the human habitability of the Earth depends. Wendell Berry has been telling us for years that the notion some can do anything they want without drastic consequences for everybody is colossal stupidity.

I once stood with Leslie County’s Daymon Morgan on the pathetic stump of a mountain strip-mined 25 years earlier overlooking what remained of a mountain still being plundered by the more drastic methods of “mountaintop removal.” The appalling vista brought to mind the farcical promises of “regulation” for “environmental protection” of state governments as well as state institutions of higher learning and their centers for “clean coal research.” In such unbearable situations we have to find inspiration and courage from the example of citizen activists such as Daymon Morgan and Teri Blanton. In Recovering the Commons, Taylor and I discuss the Appalachian citizen action groups that in our experience demonstrate the arts of reweaving mourning and memory counteracting political passivity and the cultural acquiescence sought by corporate power.

John Prine’s song of many years ago about “Paradise” in Kentucky’s Muhlenberg County is still popular, the lyrics well-known. Well, Mr. Peabody’s coal train began in Illinois and Biggers gives us the rest of the story. In fascinating detail, Bigger shows how that story starts well before Peabody Mine No. 1 was sunk in 1895 in southern Illinois one county over from Eagle Creek. This book by Biggers offers valuable historical perspectives on what has become Peabody Energy, probably one of the most powerful entities ever operating in American politics and public policy.

It will not be as easy to abolish mountaintop removal (MTR) as some think. And phasing out stripmining in general and implementing a just transition for the coalfields as part of a national clean energy economy based on green jobs will be even more of a struggle. We will have to recognize, as does Biggers, the extent to which existing programs for regulation and reclamation are leaving not only terrible scars on land and habitat but also are reinforcing strong political tendencies toward various forms of amnesia. One of the questions Biggers and several of us are asking now after the TVA disaster in Tennessee: why is it so easy to forget or ignore that half of Americans live within an hour of a toxic coal ash dump?

Then there is that carbon footprint that somehow coexists in the President’s mind with “clean coal”! The political problem, certainly not his alone, is how and when more of us will start listening to what Jeff calls “the silent volcanoes of climate destabilization”? Across this planet, the children of today and their children of tomorrow depend upon people, politicians and businesses making stronger moves now toward sustainable policies than many of us have begun to imagine. In the last fifty pages of his book, Biggers makes clear why he thinks WV Congressman Ken Hechler was right when in the 1970s he spoke for the movement to abolish surface mining. I fear that the memory of that movement in recent years has gotten shaky and confused. I am one of those who thinks the Appalachian Alliance of 1977 was right to call for a Jimmy Carter veto of the legislation that established the Office of Surface Mining. This book bolsters that case.

Why read this book? We have just learned during the past week of a Pulitizer Prize in General Non-Fiction for David E. Hoffman’s book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy. It is encouraging to see such a book dealing with a momentous issue winning the prize. In my opinion, Reckoning at Eagle Creek is a book of this caliber and, hopefully, in the year ahead will become a contender for the same award.

Hear Jeff Biggers in Lexington on Monday, April 19, 7 PM, at UK’s Student Center Worsham Theater.

Apr 092010

Creative Cities hits Lexington

By Danny Mayer

It didn’t dawn on me that Richard Florida was a bullshit artist until I read the opening lines of his article, “’There Goes the Neighbourhood’: How and Why Bohemians, Artists and Gays Affect Regional Housing Values,” which I found on the Richard Florida section of Richard Florida’s Creative Class website. For several weeks, I had been trying to pinpoint my unease at Florida’s thesis of the creative class, which essentially posits a global market of “creative capital” that flows across distances unequally. Continue reading »

Apr 082010

Wednesday, April 14th

Cosmic Charlies, Doors @ 8pm; Show @ 10pm. $8 advance. $10 at the door. 21+

Cosmic Charlie’s lives up to their name Wednesday the 14th. That’s when they play host to Acid Mothers Temple, a group of Japanese psychedelic heavyweights as well known for their prolific recording catalogue (having released at least five studio albums in the last year alone) as they are for their phenomenal high energy live shows. Continue reading »

Apr 082010

By Dan Dickinson

Courtesy of Dan Dickinson

UK's Drew Lavey sprints to the win

On March 20th, Lexington’s Commonwealth Eye Surgery / Pedal the Planet bike racing team hosted a day of racing at the Cold Stream research park on Newtown Pike. Racers came from throughout the state as well as Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee.

The event organized racers according to skill level with category 5 being beginners through category 1 for the elite. For the women categories ranged from 4 to 1. There were also categories based on age for masters (40+) and juniors (under 18).The various races lasted from thirty minutes to an hour on a 1.3 mile loop. This style of racing is fast and furious with average speeds reaching 25 mph and racers riding only inches apart. On this relatively flat course some riders were hitting speeds of more than 35 mph.The first race of the day was the Cat 5 Men. This race was marred halfway through by a crash. Several riders went down with one, Dave Marshal, injuring his elbow. The crash split the field apart and many strong riders burned out trying to chase the lead group. Jeremy Burroughs managed to beat McDonald’s Lewis Jackson to the line with Mark Roth finishing third.

In the Men’s 4/5 race, two riders had attacked with one lap to go but were caught by a charging peloton shortly before the finish. UK’s Drew Lavey started his sprint a long way out but managed to hold it to the line for the win with Pedal the Planet’s Brendan Canty finishing second.

The men’s 3/4 race saw several attacks throughout, but none were successful. The race came down to a sprint finish where Lexington’s Eric Barnett finished third behind Sean Steele and Nathan Roberson of Louisville.

Eric Barnett also placed 3rd in the Masters 40+ race behind Curtis Tolson of Texas Roadhouse and Michael McShane of Calistoga Racing.

Marilynn Hartman of Texas Roadhouse dominated the Women’s 1/2/3 race. About halfway through the race she attacked the field and soloed to victory. In the Women’s 4 race Erin Greene was victorious with Sharlyn Golding finishing second.

The Men’s 1/2/3 race saw the fastest action of the day. It didn’t take long for a break away of four riders to form with two riders from the Texas Roadhouse team. Behind them the chase group kept dwindling as riders were unable to keep up. Despite Texas Roadhouse having two of the four riders in the winning break, Lee Hauber of Fetzer Cycling was able to win the final sprint in impressive fashion.

Bike racing will return to Lexington on Memorial Day, May 31, as part of Bike Lexington. A series of races will be run downtown from 1-7 P.M. following the family fun ride. Come on out and cheer on the home town racers.

Apr 082010

A week of live music

By Saraya Brewer

We’ve always known April to be a big month for tomfoolery, Starburst jellybeans and (at least in Keeneland country) seersucker suits. Fortunately, this year, it’s also a big month for independent music. We’ve got the April 23rd WRFL event “Bringing in the New Age with No Age,” a celebration of the station’s forthcoming expanded listening area (more on that in the next issue), and we’ve also got CD Central’s 15th birthday, a milestone event that will be celebrated the entire week leading up to Record Store Day (April 17). Continue reading »

Apr 082010

Slave revolts, births and criminal syndicalism

NoC News

On April 8 in 1712, a slave revolt occurred in New York City, a city that at the time exploited a large slave labor force to grow its economic might. On the night of the revolt, twenty-three slaves set fire to a city building and waited—with hatchets, swords and guns—for white townspeople to respond to the fire. They killed nine people and injured six more before fleeing. In the roundup of slaves that occurred afterwards, twenty-one were executed and six committed suicide rather than be captured. The uprising resulted in new slave laws that included, among other things, more leeway in allowing masters to “discipline” their slaves—so long as the beatings did not result in loss of life or limb. Continue reading »