Oct 012013
"Earth/Text/Wood/News, study 4," a multi-media collage by Danny Mayer.

“Earth/Text/Wood/News, study 4,” a multi-media collage by Danny Mayer.

A story of the late Holocene

By Danny Mayer

“This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut


July 8, 2012, the day the story broke, it was hotter than shit.  103 degrees in Lexington, 15 above the historical average, the last of an 11 day stretch of day-time highs exceeding the norm by over 10 degrees. Continue reading »

May 082013

Open Letter to members of the University of Kentucky community

March 31, 2013

Dear UK Faculty, Students, and Staff:

I am writing this letter to make you aware of a discriminatory policy that is in place at the University of Kentucky, a policy that I have been personally affected by and which the University continues to stand behind. According to the UK-HMO Description of Benefits and Services, the following health care coverage is listed as an exclusion: “Sex Transformation/Sexual Dysfunction–Services, supplies, drugs or other care related to sex transformation, gender identity, sexual or erectile dysfunction or inadequacies.” Setting aside the problematic conflation of sex transformation and sexual dysfunction, this policy directly discriminates against transgender members of the UK community. Continue reading »

Feb 042013

The continuing struggle of garment workers

By Beth Connors-Manke 

If you view history as a discrete set of events, then the similarities are eerie. March 1911: 146 garment workers, many of them young women, die in a factory fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. November 2012: 111 garment workers, many of them women, die in a factory fire at the Tazreen Fashions Company. Neither building had a sprinkler system, although the technology was available. Both factories had fabric stored in ways that led easily to raging fires; in both factories, escape routes were blocked and workers were hindered from speedy evacuations. In each case, workers had protested labor conditions before the disasters.

However, if you view history as a long struggle for progress and social justice, the similarities are depressingly tragic. One hundred years after the Triangle fire in New York City, the Tazreen blaze in Dhaka, Bangladesh, again finds Americans thoughtlessly complicit in deadly working conditions for garment workers. It may not have happened in one of our industrial cities, but the Tazreen fire still occurred in our supply chain—it is still a product of our economic structure and attitudes about labor. Continue reading »

Nov 072012

By Mary Grace Barry

“Time accomplishes for the poor what money does for the rich,” writes labor organizer Cesar Chavez in his “Good Friday Letter.” Published in 1969, the letter is addressed to E.L. Barr, Jr., the president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. Chavez’s farm worker’s union had enacted a table grape boycott in order to gain better working conditions. Staunchly non-violent, Chavez was troubled by growers’ accusations that strikers had been violent.  Continue reading »

Dec 072011

By Danny Mayer

Last week, city leaders unveiled a fresh round of updates regarding plans for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District, known politically as the Rupp Opportunity Zone. Leaders envision a public/private/public urban development project that will link the city, UK and the downtown private business community. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Zone is Rupp Arena, home of UK basketball, whose renovation costs the city hopes to leverage to spur further development of the 47 city-owned convention center acres that it sits upon. Continue reading »

Nov 232011

From State College to Berkeley and back to Lexington

By Jeff Gross

Like many on the morning of November 10, I woke up to the swell of news about what had happened overnight at two major public universities. In State College, P.A., an estimated 2,000 students took to the streets after the Penn State University Board of Trustees announced the dismissal of university president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno for their alleged roles in covering up the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Angry that media attention had pressured the school to end Paterno’s reign, students hurled rocks at television reporters and overturned a news van. By the time the streets were cleared, the police had made no arrests.

Across the country, at the University of California-Berkeley, students gathered in front of Sproul Hall (site of famous 1960s protests) to Occupy Cal and draw attention to the increasing cost of tuition and the long-term impact of student loan debt. In defiance of university administrators’ orders not to set up an encampment, a group of nearly 1,000, made up of students and faculty members, attempted to set up tents to occupy their campus. Refusing police orders to disperse, protestors knowingly committed an act of civil disobedience when they linked arms to protect the individuals setting up the encampment. Continue reading »

Oct 262011

A self-guided walk/bike tour of scenes from the last revolution to hit Lexington

By Guy Mendes

In contrast to the Greatest Generation, which saved the world from the Nazis and the Fascists, the crowd of students who hit their college years in the late Sixties was what you might call the Provocative Generation. They prodded and poked and pissed off a lot of people in order to help us understand that war was not the answer. They were part of a nation-wide movement not only because their lives were in the balance, but also because the American Dream had been exposed as a myth that hid the duel-headed beast of racism and militarism. These Provocateurs were in middle school or high school when JFK was assassinated. They were in college when MLK and RFK were gunned down. They were turning 18 when that meant, if you were a male, you could be drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam, where many people on both sides were being killed in a senseless, brutal war. They were just beginning to vote when Washington was burning and race riots consumed Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. And they were about to graduate from UK when they heard that antiwar protesters had been killed by National Guard troops on the Kent State Campus. Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, four dead in Ohio. It can’t happen here, right?

During the weekend of October 28-30, Lexingtonians are advised to be on the lookout for roving bands of hippie-dippie peaceniks, pinkos, radicals and bleeding heart liberals who have conspired to convene in Lexington during the last weekend of the month. This loose-knit band of sixty-somethings is re-grouping 41 years after some of them put Lexington and the burning UK Air Force ROTC Building in their rear-view mirrors. Others among them have been living here all along, quietly thinking their leftist thoughts, waiting for the next chance to march in the streets.

On Saturday, they’ll gather at the downtown YMCA (239 East High Street) at 10 A.M. for a walking/biking tour of their provocative past. Come join them on their tour, and afterwards head on down to Occupy Lexington to hear some of their stories.

Can’t make it then? No problem. Here is a guided tour of “the most dangerous moment in UK history” (so far). In the meantime, if you encounter someone Questioning Authority, or asking What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?, approach carefully, flash the peace sign and say, Right On! Continue reading »

Oct 122011

By Danny Mayer

If you want to know how the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force will shake out, look no further than a Friday, April 1, 20011, Lexington Herald-Leader editorial entitled, “Not just another pretty venue.” The editorial lays out all the basic talking points used by virtually every leader and writer covering the topic. It begins with three paragraphs duly noting that, yes, Rupp is already a world-class facility that is the envy of the basketball world, and that, yes, neither the replacement nor the renovation of it should rank high on “Kentucky’s, Lexington’s or the University of Kentucky’s [list of] most pressing needs.”

After making the brief case for why it is utterly useless and irresponsible to do anything at all to Rupp, the editorial spends the final 15 paragraphs rolling out the city and university’s sales pitch to the public, their plan for doing what they’ve just told you they shouldn’t do. Their idea is that a shitty project for the city, state and university can be securitized into one giant super-shitty project that will magically turn profitable for all interested parties. Continue reading »

Aug 242011

By Danny Mayer

The term idiot derives from the Greek idiotes (“person lacking professional skill,” “a private citizen,” “individual”) and the emphatic adjective idios (“uniquely one’s own”). Idiots referred to a large segment of a small slice of male residents, wealthy all, granted the right to vote in the Greek city-state Athens. As a class of moneyed men expressing neither interest nor aptitude in public affairs, the idiotai were considered worse than useless, the antithesis of a good citizen.

Though we understand the word today as a simple descriptor for someone who lacks an education (“a dumbass”), idiotes were not stupid. In a society that excluded over 90% of the population from voting, Greek idiots comprised much of the upper crust leisure class of enfranchised citizens. Economically, culturally and politically, they were the chosen ones. Nor were idiots incapable of formulating and advancing coherent positions to an audience of inquiring peers. According to Josiah Ober, scholar of Greek political thought and Athenian democracy, land-owning idiotes rarely participated in public civic debates, but they were common fixtures in “the law court, in the course of defending or prosecuting a private lawsuit (dike).” Continue reading »

Aug 102011

By Danny Mayer

What do you get when a state university that operates as if it were a multi-faceted corporation starts sharing notes with an abashedly pro-big business city mayor? In Lexington, Kentucky, thus far you get a privately funded study to set the terms on how much public city money will suck into the state’s flagship public university, the University of Kentucky (UK), so that its quasi-private Athletic Association can fund improvements to a downtown arena used by its men’s basketball team.  In Lexington, you staff the study with people holding vested interests in making the project work at all costs. Then you enlarge the area and scale of the project nearly three-fold to 46 city acres, call it an “opportunity zone” and officially christen the territory the Arena, Arts and Entertainment District (AAED).

That committee, the AAED, is slated to report phase one of its findings in early September, according to Tom Eblen writing in the July 31 Lexington Herald Leader. In preparation, here’s how we got here.

How a district gets is born

The Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force is the most recent group tasked with overseeing Rupp arena renovations. In the 1990s, as the college negotiated a new lease on Rupp Arena, UK created a study to look into the possibility of relocating the arena to an on-campus location nearby Commonwealth Stadium.  Athletic director CM Newton has since acknowledged the study was simply a ploy to get more concessions on athletic association’s Rupp lease. The ploy seems to have worked. After signing a long-term agreement to lease Rupp, the thirty-year old arena promptly received a $40 million facelift in the late 1990s and 2000s.

With the university a decade away from needing to renegotiate its lease, in 2008 UK began angling again for better terms on the site. At that time, the state university lobbied for the London-based sports marketing and branding firm IMG and its subsidiary, International Stadia Group (ISG), to perform a feasibility study. Essentially, the study was to see if it (the private investment firm IMG and its subsidiary ISG) could pay for improvements by assuming a certain private stake in the the Rupp Arena experience.

After this report went belly-up in the 2008 financial crash, the University, forced to slum it once again, return to the public municipal trough. For the past year, they have been met with open arms by new Lexington mayor Jim Gray. The head of a building corporation with a multi-national presence, Gray has a creative-class driven vision that champions using public money to help specific private downtown developments clustered in a narrow area around the city’s Main Street.

The Arena, Arts and Entertainment District, a 46-acre opportunity zone of economically aesthetic parking lots dotted throughout by a convention center, food court, roller derby court and 20,000+ seat arena, is where “town/gown” relations are at right now.  The AAED is bounded by “the downtown business district, the fringes of the University of Kentucky, the emerging restaurant and entertainment areas along Manchester and Jefferson streets, and five historic residential neighborhoods.” This location nearby recently proclaimed city hotspots has gotten the area touted as the “biggest development opportunity in modern Lexington history”—Centrepointe on steroids.

Addition by addition

Public conversation on the topic seems to have arrived at four conclusions: (1) that Rupp will either be renovated or re-built; (2) That economics will dictate a Rupp renovation rather than new construction because this route will require less public funds; (3) that any re-do requires the geographic scope of the project to greatly increase, that changes occur across districts and not buildings; and (4) anything done must be bonified first-rate, real world class.

From the University of Kentucky side of things, basketball coach John Calipari, whose $4 million annual salary is provided by the privately funded UK Athletic Association, was the first to play up the vital need for world class.  UK Basketball needed to remain a “gold standard” program, he stated. This term, “gold standard,” was later used by UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart (salary=$700,000) and UK CEO Lee Todd (salary=$700,000) in reference to any potential changes at Rupp.

On the city side, leaders have used the increased area of the “district” designation to push new urbanist design plans. The key word, municipally, is “design excellence.” Jim Gray has openly called for using city money and leverage to develop the area. The Herald Leader has charged city leaders with creating “something extraordinary to convince the public and its elected representatives that [public money] would be an investment and not an extravagance.”

Meanwhile, most city discussions assume that at least one of the contiguous areas, the recently named Distillery District off Manchester Street, will likewise receive city and state funds for private development of the area. It’s a classic case of addition through addition. The city justifies public money getting spent on un-needed infrastructure upgrades partly on the basis that it’s also giving away public money to private development interests in a contiguous neighborhood.

With the AAED task force yet to release their September report, we cannot yet tally how much public investment it will call for, but traveling one block west to the Distillery District might give an indication.

In his recent city budget proposal, Mayor Jim Gray went to bat for his tough austerity measures—cutting public jobs and funding for social service agencies—to right-size government and decrease city debt. The mayor made a great show, and the media followed right along, of a get-tough veto of what he described as an unnecessary $400,000 bond. The public money was to be used for the construction of 2 disc golf courses and a lacrosse field on public park lands, and a public access ramp for seniors at a planned Seniors Center. Gray stated that he didn’t feel a “Frisbee golf course” was a good investment for the city.

Meanwhile, Emily Hagedorn reports in Kentucky Forward, the same austere city budget issued a $2.2 million bond to pay for infrastructure costs in the Distillery District. Of this amount, $418,000 was authorized the city simply to pay for a feasibility study of the district that abutts the western edge of Rupp’s Arena district. Not a single media source I’ve seen mentioned that bond payment, though several have praised the mayor for his “spread the pain” budget that included the veto of public improvements to park land and disability access for the aged.

Private and public interests

Several prominent investors in the Distillery District, most notably the New Buster’s co-owner Barry McNees, appear as members of the Arena, Arts and Entertainment District task force. Other task force members have relationships, like McNees, that pre-dispose them to benefit disproportionately off increased public investment in the area. Prominent UK Athletics Association backer Luther Deaton (head of Bank One) is on it; so is UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. City developer Dudley Webb, whose vacant lot CentrePointe project four blocks away is asking for $50 million in public city investment on the basis of downtown rejuvenation, has a seat. So does Everette McCorvey, a UK opera professor whose name has appeared in relation to Distillery District projects.

In Mid-April, UK sports beat reporter Jerry Tipton interviewed Faculty Trustee Joe Peek. Peek, a business professor with tenure, confessed his unease with the Rupp proposals. “My concern is that the state, city and university are in bad financial shape, so is it something that we can afford at this time.” Peak’s question is not one Luther Deaton or Mitch Barnhart or Barry McNeese are much interested in considering. They and their specific interests all stand to profit, individually, from publicly funded Rupp renovations. This doesn’t make them inherently bad people (though they may make bad decisions), but it does make them vested people.

It’s notable to me that not a single council person–a publicly elected and accountable official–appears on the 40 person Rupp redevelopment task force Mayor Gray created and charged with setting the terms for city involvement. All that good business of public accountability and my city representatives don’t even have a formal and well-represented position on the crew overseeing the opening stages of a potentially costly Rupp re-design. The question needs to be asked, and often, who will advocate for the larger community interests? Who will say enough, basta?