So in case you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a very nice article profiling the Elliot County, Kentucky high school basketball teamat, written by my former home-town sportswriter, Pat Forde. It’s one of those underdog stories (like Hoosiers, to borrow Forde’s analogue), but in Appalachia rather than the Rust Belt/rural Indiana (which makes it more of an underdog story, really, because Appalachia is poorer and more generally forgotten).  Anyway, that’s nice and all, but the really intriguing line of thought comes in the second comment on the piece, by a certain “cstorm06”:

“Send them all to UK, No kid would ever work harder than these kids. I’d take them over a Liggins or Bradley any ol’day. [sic]

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a hell of a lot wrongwith my Wildcats right about now. And this line of thought — that what they need are a few sharpshooting hillbillies or small-town kids, raised on Kentucky basketball but undersized and “undertalented” so with a chip on their shoulders — isn’t uncommon. In fact, I remember saying aloud after Billy Gillispie was hired that I hoped he’d go get a couple of under-sized clutch-shooting kids from Eastern Kentucky.

To continue drawing examples from my own experiences with Kentucky basketball: I used to predict the outcome of the Kentucky-Louisville game based on which team had more native Kentuckians; it worked for two or three years in a row, actually. I thought for a long time that Chuck Hayes — the under-sized, “under-talented” power forward who through sheer force of will has developed an NBA career — was a native Kentuckian; in my family, the highest praise a player can receive (and it was frequent for Hayes) is, “He plays like he’s from Kentucky.”

The theory isn’t that the size or haircuts or whatnot make them that good; it’s where they’re from. That, because of place-a sense of “from-ness”-they will play harder, and have more devotion than anyone not from Kentucky and not raised on Kentucky basketball. That, contra Seinfeld, the “Kentucky” they’re playing for isn’t just a set of jerseys, or a university over in Lexington. It’s not even a state, this line of reasoning goes, but the state-the one that raised them, that they’ve grown up in. That, in addition to everything else that can come with/from playing college basketball for what is (still) the winningest program in the NCAA, there is a sense of playing for the place which one is from. That it raises the performance of individual players, and therefore of the team.

That’s nice and all, I can hear you saying, but come on!  And I would think that, too.  Only, somehow, history supports the view that being from a lifelong Kentucky fan makes a Kentucky player better (particularly if one is a guard). Forde mentions King Kelly Coleman and Richie Farmer; but three of the four seniors of the 1992 Unforgettables were from small-town Eastern Kentucky (John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus along with Farmer) – they were a team that over-performed their way into the Final Four and would have over-performed into the Finals were it not for a certain Duke thug named Christian “That Bastard” Laettner.  Not to mention: Patrick Sparks, Ravi Moss, and Cameron Mills (who avenged ’92), among others.

And, at the risk of opening up an entirely different can of worms, Adolph Rupp on his recruiting practices: “It’s got to be a Kentucky boy or from a neighbor state. We can’t go raid some schoolyard.” And it didn’t work out too poorly for him, at least not until John Wooden came along and built himself a few basketball teams.

So I haven’t meant this as simple glorification of the grand past of Kentucky basketball because I can’t bear to look at the present (though that’s roughly where I’m at this season); but as another piece of evidence that there is meaning and importance in one’s native hill, wherever it may be. I can’t, of course, call for a team of all Kentuckians and expect “greatness”: but on those great teams-and the not-so-great ones-the players with a habit of over-performing and rising to the occasion when the situation most demanded it have a disproportionate habit of being Kentuckians. And warnings be damned: it can’t just be dismissed as random correlation.


A headline that the Louisville Courier-Journal’s website makes to sound like good news: “Less than 19,000 still without power in state.” And it is good news – because two and a half weeks ago, that number was 700,000, and a week ago well over 100,000. If those numbers referred to people, rather than households, we’d be referring to 17% of the state without electricity simultaneously at one point. But because they are talking about households, it was a far, far greater proportion of the state without power.  All at once, with temperatures lower than they “should” have been, even for winter.When I talked with my grandfather about it, he said that he had looked outside late in the afternoon the storm hit, and saw ice caking on the transformer across the street, and said to my grandmother they were going to lose power. So they, unlike many, had a few hours’ notice: the end of the night, it had fallen to the street, and their home didn’t have power for about another week. (This is all in small-town Kentucky, where things were generally worse than Louisville.)

It could have turned out much for them, were my extended family not so close (in terms of family and distance – they went to stay with my grandmother’s sister and one of her children came to pick them up): no one else in my nuclear family was in the state at the time, and even though they’re in relatively good health for eighty year-olds, they’re still eighty and a) need their medicine, b) pretty much only have perishable food, and c) have no business trying to walk to, say, their church on a sidewalk covered by an inch of ice. (Their car was trapped in the garage by the ice/power outage, but the roads, they said, were so bad that half the drive to Stanford – usually ten minutes, but this time much longer – was actually off-roading: thank God for the good ol’ American pickup truck.)

My point is this: we’re tempting disaster by thinking that if the power goes out, it won’t be but for a day or so at the most. If Kentucky is any indicator – and I’ll be the first to admit that Kentucky’s infrastructure is not top-rate – then we’re in no position to handle mass power outages, especially when they’re coupled with severe weather. We need to be able to handle them on our own – which means, to begin with, being less dependant one what we could easily find ourselves without.

Which brings me back to my title. Sharon Astyk is stirring up trouble and has her sights set on zoning laws that require us, essentially, to be more energy dependant than we need.

As a college student, I’m no real position to actively join her anti-senseless-zoning-laws, so I’ll do what little I can and pass it along. The closest I’ve seen to any sort of grassroots-campaign like what she suggests happened about seven years ago at home: the “mayor” and “council” of my little subsection of Louisville decreed that one could not have non-earth-tone lawn signs, and my neighborhood – which generally does not play well together – actively flaunted and protested it. That rule’s no longer on the books, so I suppose these things can work.  (Three cheers for democracy?)

What, after all, is the worst that could come from being too prepared?

He’s the Republican Kentucky State Senate president, with reality-altering powers, and, now, apparently, a grand plan to take down Democratic legislators in a crazy kamikaze move where he calls for banning public smoking, statewide.  In Kentucky.  Or maybe it’s a crazy kamikaze move to take down a cigarette tax increase.  (Of course, it passed in Louisville and Lexington, so maybe it’s not so suicidal.)  Or, at the very least, he’s trying to bait Helen, which probably also qualifies as “a crazy kamikaze move.”

But the best part, which really enables this story to demonstrate everything I love about Kentucky politics, is Greg Stumbo, our wonderful new House Speaker, declaring, “I’m allergic to smoke on a personal level.”  I’m still trying to figure out how you could be allergic to something on either an impersonal or public level, and what it means that we now have modes of allergic-ness.

EDIT: I suppose I forgot to mention the point of this.  I’m against laws like this on a city/county level to begin with, but a statewide ban opens a different can of worms.  You can’t even begin to claim that the people of Louisville (or wherever) don’t want smoking in their bars and restaurants — all semblance of local autonomy on nanny-issues goes out the window.  Instead, the only justification is that the government knows what’s best better than the people.  A statewide ban, rather than being an objectionable law (and, to some, an irritant), is also a stepping-stone to nationalized Pink Police State provisions.  If we see a spate of statewide bans, we’ll eventually see calls for a national ban.  And while, by analogy, no one is going to argue that we should be feeding children lead via toys, this was certainly not the way to fix the problem.

(I guess I should add that my objection to this is more of a libertarian one than a glorification of smoking one — oh, the Pink Police State!)

While I’m thinking about it, I need to remind everyone to go read Walker Percy’s essay, “Bourbon” if they haven’t already.  There is more truth than not when he writes, “the use of Bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence.”

1) Largest difference between Chicago and Louisville: necessity of cars for getting from point A to point B.  It’s such a weird thing, especially after spending almost all of the summer in Evanston/Chicago as well, to go to dinner and then get coffee with a high school friend, but to need to drive to both of them, ten minutes to one, and nearly twenty to the other.  It’s possible that that single evening’s drive is more than I spend in my (totally unnecessary for everything other than winter grocery runs) car every two weeks or so at school.

2) But spending the time in the car helps me realize two more things — gas is cheap all the sudden (I don’t expect it to last, however), and good radio stations are the one thing missing from my life when I don’t spend time in a car.

3) I love WFPK and Heine Brothers’ Coffee.  This makes me a certain type of Louisvillian at heart, no matter what I try to do about it.

4) Has alt-country and the nebulous area surrounding it gone all crunchy on us while I wasn’t paying attention?  I heard one song today lamenting our spending culture and lack of personal thrift, and then another (I’m pretty sure it was Rodney Crowell) with what sounded to be a veiled complaint about the nature of the world (something to do with gasoline, and then, at the very end, “your grandmother’s time”).

5) Taking a couple days off from blogs is relaxing.  And I like to think that I haven’t let this thing take up too much of my time yet.  I tried (briefly) to swear off my e-mail for yesterday and today, but that failed pretty quickly, which has me worried.

I’m apparently the only one unsurprised by this. And this. (Well, I am surprised that AFCSME got in on the act—I would have predicted some random local Democrat with a reputation for running off his mouth, well, running off his mouth. Like what David Williams did to Dan Mongiardo in 2004Or 2007. Though that might be even less subtle than this way.)

Opinions on Mitch’s preferences are more or less open secrets in Kentucky, so I don’t see anyone already aware of the—ahem—secrecy on these matters is going to be persuaded to change their vote (though Mitch was famous for secrecy before Dick Cheney went and ruined all the fun for everyone). But (and I know the level of extensions in this are going to make it more than a little unreliable) I do have it third hand (from people who are involved in Democratic politics to chat with people who are rather involved) that it was vaguely expected that if Lunsford was close coming down the stretch, this stuff would start to get some play.

I’m in no way attempting to implicate the Lunsford campaign—let me make that clear. I’m just saying that Mitch had a much bigger target on his back this year, even among Kentuckians, and there was—again, among those who care to speculate about whom he fantasizes about—a sense that the gloves might come off.

So I’m not surprised, but this does make me shake my head. I don’t really care whether Mitch is gay or straight or closeted or not. Those are his issues, and his frankness with himself is something that doesn’t concern me. To be honest, I felt pity more than anything for Larry Craig and his family.

(And I’ll come out and admit it: Like Will, I laughed out loud at the flier, too. I mean, six Mitches is enough to scare me pretty badly most days of the week, unless he’s dressed like the Village People — but I can’t get the picture to embed, so just go take a looksie if you feel so inclined.)

(UPDATE: If you’re coming in from PageOne Kentucky, thanks for bothering to click that link.  Feel free to snoop about; I feel like I’ve probably got more interesting/substantive opinions on other things.  Or if you really just want to hear me grumble about the Senate race, I’m planning a post on it after the election.)

From a Lexington Herald-Leader writeup of a recent poll of Kentuckians:

“Sixty-one percent said Obama was a Christian. One percent answered Catholic, 12 percent said other and 12 percent were not sure.”

I’m not really going to complain about the numbers of Kentuckians who refuse to believe that he’s anything but an Islamist Manchurian Candidate, because at least we’re more reasonable than Texas.  No: they wind up implying that Catholics are not Christians.  Really?  I know this is almost certainly just an example of why you need a copy-editor who earns their salary, but really?  You do a story on how other people can’t get Obama’s religion right, and then you go and do this?

UPDATE: Whoops, meant to add this to begin with, but: In other Bluegrass news, they’ve arrested the two idiots responsible for the Obama effigy, who are about to experience a very long-term hangover from Tuesday night.

Strange Fruit

October 29, 2008

Obama effigy found hanging from tree at UK

Reading that this has happened, I feel so sick and so overwhelmingly sad.  And that it was at UK as opposed to any other school in the state — the one we cling to as our representative, whose colors the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians wear proudly; where my stepfather, grandfather, and cousins have gone and go — makes it only feel worse.

A couple nights ago, I was feeling nostalgic and listening to “Oh Cumberland” and Bill Monroe over and over again; hell, I wrote an essay for class that night about Kentucky.  I think my sense of shame is so deep because of how much I love the state — what the Drive-By Truckers might call the “duality of the Southern Thing.”