Jefferson Davis’ life still holds lessons

May 31, 2008

He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, grew up to be president and led his nation through a bitter Civil War.

No, not Abraham Lincoln.

The other guy: Jefferson Davis.

The 200th birthday of the only president of the Confederate States of America is Tuesday, and it will pass with little notice.

A few modest ceremonies and a historians’ symposium are planned this month, and there will be a festival next weekend at Davis’ hometown of Fairview in Todd County. That’s where a 351-foot concrete obelisk was built to his memory in the early 1900s by old men of the Lost Cause.

The commemorations are in stark contrast to the two-year national celebration that began in February to mark the bicentennial of Lincoln, who was born eight months later and 125 miles away, near Hodgenville in LaRue County.

Lincoln achieved mythic status after he died a martyr as the Civil War was ending. In the pantheon of American heroes, he’s right up there with George Washington.

Davis, on the other hand, is a man few now want to acknowledge, much less celebrate.

Before the Civil War, few would have predicted their fates.

Lincoln was homely and awkward. He educated himself while working as a frontier store clerk. His military career was modest. He married well by Lexington standards, but the Todds had little influence outside the Bluegrass.

After holding small political jobs, practicing law and serving in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln was elected to a single two-year term in Congress. He won the presidency in 1860 with not quite 40 percent of the vote in a four-way race that included John C. Breckinridge of Lexington. Lincoln was openly mocked, even by some in his own government. His emancipation of slaves was not a popular move.

Davis, on the other hand, was the handsome ideal of Southern manhood. He left Kentucky at an early age, as Lincoln did, but returned as the only Protestant pupil at a good Catholic school in Springfield. He studied at Transylvania, then one of the nation’s best colleges, before leaving Lexington to attend West Point.

He served twice in the military with distinction and married the daughter of his commander, the future President Zachary Taylor. She died of malaria three months after the wedding. He married well a second time, too, securing a comfortable place in Mississippi’s plantation aristocracy. He represented Mississippi in the U.S. House, served as secretary of war and was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Davis opposed secession, but when Mississippi left the union, he resigned his Senate seat and a month later was elected president of the Confederacy.

“In some ways, the elevation of Lincoln over Davis isn’t quite fair,” said Brian Dirck, a history professor at Anderson University in Indiana and author of Lincoln and Davis: Imagining America, 1809-1865.

“Jefferson Davis was a talented man; before 1860, most people would have said he was more talented than Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “There are many people who felt (Davis) would have made a good president of the United States before the war.”

Davis did a remarkable job of holding together a confederacy founded on the principle that states’ rights supersede those of a central government. Throughout the war, he was constantly sparring with state courts and legislatures.

“I doubt anyone else could have done a better job, given the circumstances,” Dirck said.

“But here’s the thing: He lost. And by that I mean not only did he lose the war, he lost the battle for the Confederacy’s legacy, as well. After the war, he told anybody who would listen that the Confederacy was not about defending slavery, but rather the Constitution and states’ rights. He wrote a book to that effect – a really long, tedious book, I might add – and for a while people believed him.”

The Confederacy, of course, was all about slavery; the South’s wealth depended on it. Jefferson Davis led the fight for slavery and ended up as the poster boy for the most evil social institution in American history.

Davis’ view that slavery “was established by decree of Almighty God … it is sanctioned in the Bible” was conventional wisdom in the South of his day, where slavery had existed for 250 years. People used Scripture then to defend slavery the way others would use it later to deny equal rights to women and gay people.

The United States is great because it is a nation of values, and high on that list of values is equal rights. We really believe that stuff about all people being created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, our entire history has involved struggles to make those words reality. In many ways, we’re still working on it.

I’ve always been fascinated by historic figures such as Jefferson Davis, the man who stood for all of the popular things and is now pitied for it.

And it makes me wonder: When people look back on us a generation or a century or two from now, who will be our Jefferson Davises? Whom will people revere, and whom will they pity?

KY Notebook: The problem is Obama, not Appalachia

May 30, 2008

Bill Bishop of The Daily Yonder has an excellent piece on the discussion about Barrack Obama’s “Appalachian problem.” It offers statistics showing that race is no more an issue in Appalachia than many other parts of the country, including New York. Bishop argues that Obama would get a lot more support in the mountains if he would simply show up and try. It worked for Jesse Jackson two decades ago.


In the last Kentucky Notebook, I mentioned “retiree” blogs. Another interesting idea comes from Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky education professor. Like many people, Solomon says he is frustrated that some stories he thinks are important don’t get much coverage by major new organizations. So he has created The Watchdog Post blog to draw attention to them.

Kentucky Notebook: Retirees and The New Yorker

May 28, 2008

Blogging software is one of my favorite new inventions. It allows anyone with a computer and Internet connection to easily express himself to a worldwide audience. One interesting genre is blogs written by retirees who use their expertise to report and comment on news and issues in their fields.

One of my favorites is Kentucky School News and Commentary, written by Richard Day, the retired principal of Cassidy Elementary School in Lexington. Day writes frequently on a variety of education topics, and flags relevant articles published elsewhere. What makes his blog especially interesting is that he does some original reporting, and not just commentary.


A reader alerted me to an interesting article in last week’s New Yorker magazine that ends with a scene from John McCain’s recent campaign trip to Inez in Martin County. George Packer’s piece is called The Fall of Conservatism, and it traces America’s conservative movement from Barry Goldwater to George Bush. “It was interesting to hear big names like Buckley, Reagan, Nixon – characters in the great, big game of America – and end up unexpectedly in your own backyard,” said Matthew Clarke, a Kentuckian who now works in Manhattan.

Realizing the potential for downtown redevelopment

May 28, 2008

I first heard people fretting about the future of downtown Lexington when I was a kid and Turfland Mall had just opened.

Now, Turfland Mall is an almost-empty shell surrounded by big-box chain stores and restaurants. The mall’s biggest tenant, Dillard’s nee McAlpin’s, is wrapping up its going-out-of-business sale, fixtures and all.

Downtown Lexington, on the other hand, is on a roll that seems to be just beginning.

Old buildings around the new courthouse plaza that were once in the wrecking ball’s shadow have been reborn with such businesses as Giacamo’s Deli and Molly Brooke’s Irish Bar. Condos are sprouting up all over downtown, both in rehabbed old buildings such as the Kimball House and in new developments such as Main & Rose.

As big events always seem to do, the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games has given Lexington a new sense of energy and urgency. It’s like your mother yelling, “Clean up your room — company’s coming!”

For many people, the debate over Dudley Webb’s proposed CentrePointe tower has helped change the tone of the downtown conversation from “any redevelopment will do” to “what’s the best redevelopment we can do?”

The Downtown Development Authority, which the city created six years ago, recognizes the new climate. The authority is now reviewing and updating its mission statement, goals and objectives to reflect it. A revised draft is likely to be discussed at the DDA’s July meeting.

The authority is looking to expand its sights to include a broader downtown footprint, such as the historic neighborhoods north of Fourth Street. It also is looking at broader, thematic issues, such as transportation and zoning and doing more to educate and involve the public in downtown redevelopment.

“I think it’s time to step back and look at the bigger picture,” said David Mohney, the authority’s new chairman and an architecture professor at the University of Kentucky.

Mohney is on the right track. The DDA must be seen as more than an arm of private developers — keeping their secrets and facilitating their individual plans. It must look at the bigger picture, and the broader public interest.

Part of the challenge is helping people in Lexington realize just how much potential is downtown.

Unlike many cities, Lexington a generation ago chose to have the interstate highways go around it rather than through it. That left the city’s historic neighborhoods and original design intact and easier to redevelop. And, because there were no big industrial sites downtown, there’s no post-industrial blight pockmarking the landscape.

With the University of Kentucky on the south side of downtown and Transylvania University to the north side, much more could be done to integrate campus life into the larger community. And those opportunities will increase when Bluegrass Community and Technical College consolidates its campus near downtown, to the Eastern State Hospital site on West Fourth Street.

If our goal is to make downtown Lexington a destination, rather than a place to drive through quickly, we must look for more and better public-transportation options, change some one-way streets back to two-way and make the streetscape more pedestrian-friendly.

And if we can preserve much of our historic architecture — or incorporate elements of it into high-quality contemporary buildings the way other cities have done — it will create an environment that’s uniquely Lexington, and not simply generic modern America.

If we create a downtown where locals want to go, tourists will also want to visit. And, perhaps most important, Lexington will have a better shot at attracting the diverse, intelligent workers of a 21st-century economy and the companies that want to employ them.

“We can create an A-plus downtown that’s equal to our A-plus rural area,” Vice Mayor Jim Gray told the Bluegrass Hospitality Association at a recent meeting. “The downtown is our touchstone … and it’s all about the economy.”

Once that’s done, then perhaps we can turn our attention to Turfland Mall, Lexington Mall and some other once-vibrant parts of Lexington that have fallen out of favor. Like downtown, they also could be better than they are now, if we’re willing to use some imagination.

NRA’s slippery slope full of holes

May 25, 2008

As expected, I heard an earful about my column last week on a new gun group that opposes the National Rifle Association’s hard-line views and allegiance to the Republican Party.

NRA loyalists from around the country sent me e-mails echoing the organization’s claim that a small rival, the American Hunters & Shooters Association, is just a “front” for gun-control activists. They said that anything that weakens absolute Second Amendment freedom is a slippery slope that will lead to the nation being disarmed.

I believe just the opposite is true — and I think many gun owners realize it.

There’s a lot of money and power to be had by representing gun enthusiasts. Nobody knows that better than the NRA and its many competitors. With guns in nearly half of all American households, these organizations know that fear — “sneaky liberals want to take away your guns!” — is a powerful recruiting tool.

Both Democrats and Republicans love to exploit wedge issues that will energize their base. Republicans have become masters of the technique, courting factions that feel so passionately about hot-button topics — guns, gay rights, abortion, prayer in schools — that it has become difficult to find common ground on many important issues in American life.

I don’t know whether the American Hunters & Shooters Association is a good organization or a bad one. What I found interesting was its willingness to say what many “pro-gun” Kentuckians like me think about this endless debate: that we need some intelligent compromises to protect responsible gun ownership and make communities safer.

Many law-abiding Kentuckians want guns for self-defense or farm use, or because they enjoy shooting, hunting or collecting. Or they believe that America would be less safe if responsible, law-abiding citizens were disarmed. Members of the NRA and similar groups are generally the most responsible gun owners and shooters out there.

Guns were an important part of the frontier heritage that helped make America great. And Kentucky, after all, was the nation’s first frontier.

But gun violence and crime are serious problems. The no-compromise crowd has kept law enforcement agencies from having some tools they need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazy people. And that has led to some over-reaching, such as when police in New Orleans illegally seized hundreds of guns after Hurricane Katrina.

Without some intelligent compromises, each new tragedy, like the Virginia Tech or Columbine massacres, will prompt more emotional calls for banning guns. All guns. There are zealots on both sides.

The NRA and other gun groups could learn something from the horse industry.

High-profile deaths of horses in Thoroughbred racing and eventing have created some public backlash against those sports. Rather than stonewall, though, horse industry leaders are aggressively working to make their sports safer. They love horses, sure, but they also realize that their sports could live or die with public opinion.

As society becomes more diverse, we must regain the lost art of compromise. Otherwise, we’ll never be able to deal with complex problems in ways that protect everyone’s rights. Polarization may be good for special-interest groups and political parties, but it’s bad for America.

If Second Amendment absolutists keep standing up and daring others to pry their guns from their “cold, dead fingers,” eventually somebody’s going to do it.

Horsey Hundred attracts 1,700 cyclists

May 24, 2008

About 1,700 cyclists from across the eastern United States are attending the 31st annual Horsey Hundred bicycle ride Saturday and Sunday. The ride, sponsored by the Bluegrass Cycling Club and based at Georgetown College, offers rides of between 34 miles and 104 miles through Scott, Woodford, Fayette and Bourbon counties. Bethel Presbyterian Church, above, was a rest stop for some of the routes. Below, cyclists coast down a small hill on Falcon Wood Way. Photos/Tom Eblen

A reliable ride for 84 years

May 23, 2008

Cy Hanks made a stop Friday afternoon at The Country Store at Spears in southeast Fayette County. He parked his 1924 Ford Model T truck across the road.

Hanks said the truck was bought new in Nicholasville by two sisters who lived along Brannon Road. They owned it until 1947, using it to haul eggs and produce to market. Hanks bought the truck about 15 years ago to play with.

It looks great and runs well, despite little restoration work. Hanks found an old moonshine still and some stone jugs for the truck bed because he thought it added a nice touch. The truck gets about 24 miles to the gallon.

New Hope for Kentucky’s recovering addicts

May 22, 2008

Drew Thomas isn’t what most people visualize when they think of a homeless alcoholic and drug addict.

Captain of his high school football team, scholarship athlete at Eastern Kentucky University, semi-pro player in Arizona. On the outside, Thomas seemed to be successful.

Inside, he was a mess.

“I kind of always knew I had a problem,” he said. “But it took me a long time to come to the realization that I couldn’t control my addictions.”

Thomas, 31, began drinking in high school. He got hooked on painkillers after a knee injury, then took up crystal meth. He was dismissed from his semi-pro team after failing a random drug test.

Back in Kentucky, alcohol and drugs consumed his life. His parents kicked him out, then his girlfriend kicked him out.

Thomas ended up at the Hope Center’s emergency shelter and, last October, entered its addiction recovery program. His goal is to complete the center’s recovery program as 800 men and 300 women have done since 1996.

“They saved my life,” Thomas said of the shelter.

The Hope Center will be able to save many more lives now that it has the George Privett Recovery Center, a 96-bed facility at 250 W. Loudon Avenue. The center will greatly expand the men’s recovery program while freeing much-needed space at the shelter down the street.

The Hope Center also operates a 40-unit transitional apartment complex, a women’s recovery center and recovery programs for men and women at the Fayette County Detention Center.

Gov. Steve Beshear used the new building’s dedication Thursday to sign an executive order creating a task force to advise him on the Recovery Kentucky initiative.

After signing an executive order creating the Recovery Kentucky Task Force, Gov. Steve Beshear shakes hands with state Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller, who will be the task force’s vice chairman. Dr. George Privett stands at left beside John Y. Brown III. Photos/Tom Eblen

Recovery Kentucky is building 10 addiction treatment facilities around the state that will accommodate 1,000 people and use programs modeled after those at the Hope Center and The Healing Place in Louisville. But the new facilities will only begin to meet the demand.

“The numbers we deal with in Kentucky are staggering,” Beshear said.

Experts say that more than 375,000 Kentuckians need drug or alcohol treatment. But it is a good investment: for every $1 spent on treatment, $7 is saved in health care and criminal justice costs.

Recovery programs are key to the Hope Center’s mission, because more than 70 percent of the homeless men who come there are addicts.

The new building is named for Dr. George Privett, a Hope Center board member who owns Lexington Diagnostic Center. Privett is an active donor and volunteer in many local charity and arts organizations. Earlier this year, he received a humanitarian award from the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice.

“There’s nothing that I can think of better to do in life than to give someone the tools to help him get out of the death spiral of addiction,” Privett told more than 200 people who attended the center’s dedication ceremony.

Privett gave $300,000 toward the center’s construction, but it was truly a community effort. Other private donations totaled $600,000; Lexmark gave the land; the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati donated $1 million; Central Bank provided financial services; and construction was handled at cost by Barkham Inc., the non-profit unit of Ball Homes. That company’s founders, Don and Mira Ball, are big supporters of the 28-year-old Hope Center.

Many other Lexington individuals and businesses donated furniture, equipment and even art for the walls. The value of the finished facility is about $3.5 million.

Earlier this week, I got a tour from staff members Kolan Morelock and Walter May, who were obviously proud of the building and the programs it will house.

The recovery program takes in addicts from the Hope Center shelter as well as some who are released from prison or are referred by judges. More than six in 10 participants succeed.

The program requires individuals to take responsibility for their behavior – and be held accountable by their peers. Participants must go through Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous programs, and do the chores necessary to keep the center and shelter running. In later stages of recovery, they also must get outside jobs.

As men advance through the program, they will move to progressively nicer dormitory rooms at the new center. “It reinforces the idea that what I am doing is making my life better,” May said.

Drew Thomas, the former football player, still has a long way to go in his recovery. But he said the Hope Center’s impact on his life already has been profound.

“I know that my attitude has changed 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of personal relationships back with my family. Through my addictions, I had harmed them, stole things from them, done a lot of bad things to them.”

Thomas said he has learned humility for the first time in his life, and he has found a relationship with God.

“It sounds corny, because when I first got here, to be honest with you, I was real skeptical about the whole deal,” he said. “But looking back today, I owe them my life.”

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday marked the opening of the Hope Center’s George Privett Recovery Center. From left, Luther Deaton of Central Bank, Mira and Don Ball of Ball Homes, Bonnie Quantrell, Hope Center Chair Randy Breeding, Gov. Steve Beshear and Cecil Dunn, the Hope Center’s executive director.

Kentucky Notebook: What’s worth reading online

May 21, 2008

The World Wide Web is a gold mine for news and information junkies. The more I look, the more I find fascinating “content” that helps me understand the world and our little corner of it.

Today I’m beginning an occasional series of blog posts called Kentucky Notebook. I call it occasional, because I’ll do it whenever I find time and material worth calling to your attention. I call it Kentucky Notebook, because it will highlight online content relating to our state, people and culture. If you see articles worth highlighting, post a comment or send me an email.

Ron Eller, a University of Kentucky history professor who specializes in Appalachia, has a perceptive essay about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Appalachian voters. It was written before Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory over Obama in Tuesday’s Kentucky primary, but it helps explain why Obama received minuscule support in some Eastern Kentucky counties. The essay is accompanied by photos of Letcher County taken by photographer Andrew Stern this year and a half-century ago.

Eller’s essay also is a good excuse to highlight the online publication in which it appears. The Daily Yonder focuses on news and commentary about rural America. It is edited by two Kentuckians: Bill Bishop, a former Herald-Leader editorial columnist, and his wife, Julie Ardery. They now live in Austin, Texas. Bishop is also the author of a new book, The Big Sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart. It was reviewed Sunday in The New York Times.

Some gun owners resent NRA’s devotion to GOP

May 21, 2008

Last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention in Louisville could easily have been mistaken for a Republican campaign rally.

“If either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is elected president, the rights of law-abiding gun owners will be at risk my friends – and have no doubt about it,” John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, told the crowd.

Former Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee also spoke, with Huckabee making – and later apologizing for – an attempt at a joke. When a chair fell over with a bang during his speech, Huckabee said it was Democratic candidate Barack Obama ducking because somebody aimed a gun at him.

Rounding out the NRA’s “American Values Leadership Forum” were Republican icons Karl Rove and Oliver North, who are now Fox News Channel commentators.

What you didn’t hear is that many gun enthusiasts balk at the NRA’s devotion to the Republican Party. They resent the NRA for appropriating their values, radicalizing their views and, perhaps, jeopardizing their ability to own guns in the future.

“In many circles, the NRA stands for the National Republican Association,” said Bob Ricker, executive director of the American Hunters & Shooters Association, which last month endorsed Obama for president.

The AHSA was started two years ago by Ricker, a former NRA assistant general counsel and longtime gun industry lobbyist, and Ray Schoenke, an avid hunter and former Washington Redskins lineman who ran unsuccessfully in 1998 for the Democratic nomination to be governor of Maryland.

“There wouldn’t be a need for the American Hunters & Shooters Association if the NRA was doing its job,” Ricker said in an interview. “We really feel like the vast majority of sportsmen are under-represented.”

The AHSA wants to preserve the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns for recreation and self-defense. But it also wants to curb gun violence and gun crime.

Ricker said the NRA’s focus on absolute gun-ownership rights has made communities less safe and led that organization to support some politicians who have bad records on environmental conservation, which is important to hunters.

The AHSA supports what Ricker called “common-sense” proposals such as the assault-weapons ban and requiring people who buy guns at gun shows to have the same criminal background checks required at gun stores.

He said the NRA’s resistance to those and other measures that would make guns safer and keep them out of the hands of criminals only further divides the nation between pro-gun and anti-gun factions. That division puts law-abiding gun owners at risk, especially when public opinion swings against guns in the wake of such tragedies as the Virginia Tech massacre.

Ricker said the AHSA endorsed Obama after reviewing all of the major candidates’ positions. Key to the decision was Obama’s vote for federal legislation that would prevent police from seizing legally held guns during emergencies, as happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Hillary Clinton voted against it.

McCain has had a rocky relationship with the NRA over the years, although he’s seeking its endorsement this time. “We just think McCain is the type of guy who is going to say anything to get elected,” Ricker said.

The AHSA has signed up about 25,000 dues-paying members over two years, Ricker said. That pales in comparison to the 4 million members of the NRA, which had a 135-year head start. But Ricker notes that the NRA’s 4 million is only a fraction of the nation’s estimated 60 million gun owners.

The NRA dismisses the AHSA as a front for gun-control activists, noting that it supports some restrictions and compromises advocated by such groups as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Ricker said that’s exactly the point.

The best way to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms is to reduce gun violence and crime. And the best way to do that is to search for compromises that protect both constitutional rights and the public safety.

“You can’t solve it by stonewalling as the NRA has done,” Ricker said.

Mayor interview series includes Newberry

May 19, 2008

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry is one of several U.S. mayors interviewed about their concerns as part of a new online video project called MayorTV.

The interviews were organized by The Nation magazine and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a progressive think tank. The project seeks to focus more of the discussion in the 2008 presidential campaign on urban issues, saying 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas.

In the six-minute interview, Newberry discusses the importance of cities and Lexington issues such as the EPA consent decree on sewer improvements, the Urban Services Boundary and the role of arts in urban economic development.

Watch Newberry’s interview below. To see interviews with other U.S. majors, go to MayorTV’s Web site.


Where to find teen driving classes

May 19, 2008

My column Friday about the need for more hands-on training for young drivers prompted a lot of response from readers, many of whom suggested some good resources.

Perhaps the best is a full-day seminar that will be coming to Commonwealth Stadium’s parking lot in Lexington on Aug. 2.  It is the Tire Rack Street Survival program, which costs $60, can take as many as 30 students.

The program was started as a non-profit organization in 2002 by the BMW Car Club of America and puts on seminars around the country coordinated by local volunteers and supported by local sponsors.  Sponsors for the Lexington session include the Sports Car Club of America and Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Gail Morgan Reynolds decided to organize the Lexington session after taking her son, Don Morgan, 17, to one in Louisville last year. “We were just so impressed,” she said. “It was such a good course.”

To sign up for the course, go online to and look for the Lexington course information under the “school schedule/registration” link.

Reynolds is still looking for experienced volunteer instructors, as the goal is to have one instructor for every two students. She said additional classes may be scheduled in the future, depending on demand and the ability to schedule dates when Commonwealth Stadium’s lot is empty, or find another suitably huge expanse of asphalt.

Other Street Survival sessions planned in the region including Carmel, Ind. (just north of Indianapolis) on June 21; Columbus, Ohio, on July 12; Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sept. 13 and Oct. 18.

Another non-profit program is Driver’s Edge, which offers a two-day course that’s free. But the only course planned in our region is Aug. 23-24 in Nashville, Tenn.  Registration for it will open soon at the organization’s Web site,

The Mid-Ohio School in Lexington, Ohio, north of Columbus, offers a teen defensive driving course, along with many other courses for people who want to learn to race cars.  The teen course costs $350.  For more information, go online to:

Among the other solutions: BMW offers a one-day course for teens at its Performance Driving School in Greer, S.C., for $495. And while it’s nothing like hands-on experience, a company called Road Skillz ( sells a DVD for $19.95 that covers the most common mistakes young drivers make and how to survive them.

Lexington turns out on two wheels

May 17, 2008

Lexington is never more beautiful than on a sunny spring day, viewed from the seat of a bicycle. It looks even better when everyone else is on a bicycle, too.

This was Bike Lexington weekend, and everyone downtown seemed to be on two wheels.

The fun began Friday evening along Euclid Avenue with the prologue of a three-day stage race that attracted more than 150 racers — and several times that many spectators.

“Three restaurants in Chevy Chase told us last night they had never been so busy on a Friday night — and their road was closed,” said Joe Graviss, a McDonald’s restaurant franchisee who helps sponsor a local racing team.

What makes Bike Lexington special isn’t the racers — it’s the average folks who come out on all kinds of bikes.

“This may be my most enjoyable day of the year in Lexington,” said Mayor Jim Newberry.

The main event was the Saturday bike rally, which attracted more than 1,000 people to the courthouse plaza.

Corporate sponsors Humana and Pedal Power and Pedal the Planet bike shops set up festival booths, as did cycling organizations.

Bicycle police officers were there, as well as the fire department’s new Bike Medics, showing off their rigs.

The idea behind Bike Medics is to quickly reach an ill or injured person at a crowded event. A paramedic on a bicycle can administer first aid and prepare the person for evacuation on a small utility vehicle.

“We can do everything on these bikes that we can do on these trucks,” said firefighter Anthony Johnson, whose bike packs held a heart defibrillator and other equipment, along with emergency drugs. “It also makes it less likely we’re going to hurt somebody else like we might if we tried to take a truck into a crowd.”

The Brain Injury Association of Kentucky fitted and gave away 250 bicycle helmets. And the Yellow Bike program, which offers public loaner bikes downtown, signed up new members.

Shane Tedder served up fruit smoothies on his bicycle-powered blender, which he and welder Patrick Garnett built from old bike frames.

In remarks to the crowd, Newberry said promoting bicycling for fitness, recreation and transportation is a priority of both his administration and the Urban County Council.

“We’ve made some significant improvements, and we’re going to do more and more,” Newberry said.

Lexington has 19 miles of bike lanes on streets and 12 miles of trails, Newberry said, and more are planned.

Newberry and at least two council members were among the estimated 800 people who participated in the 10-mile family fun ride through downtown and the University of Kentucky campus, around Commonwealth Stadium, out Richmond Road and back. That were about 100 more participants than last year, said Kenzie Gleason, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

People of all ages and sizes, riding all kinds of bicycles, cruised through the cool morning breeze on a course closed to motorized traffic. There were many children and more than a few senior citizens.

“You can see biking has really taken off in Lexington,” said councilman Chuck Ellinger.

Councilman Tom Blues, who like Ellinger is an avid cyclist, predicted that more people will bike as more trails and lanes are built — and as more people realize that Central Kentucky’s rural roads are a cycling paradise. Rising gas prices won’t hurt, either.

Bruce and Jessica Rishel of Versailles brought their two young children to Bike Lexington last year, and they’ve been eager to come back ever since. “She thinks the courthouse is for bike festivals,” Jessica Rishel said of her daughter.

The Rishel children — Anemone, 5, and Alex, 3 — wore helmets and rode tiny bikes with training wheels for the kid races. Their parents pulled them in a bike trailer on the family fun ride.

As I got ready to start the 10-mile ride, I pulled up beside Jim Hilke of Paris, who is something of a legend in the Bluegrass Cycling Club. Hilke turns 78 next week. He has already ridden 700 miles this year, and he’ll get in another 1,300 or so before Christmas.

Because cycling doesn’t pound your body like running and some other sports, it can be a lifelong activity.

Hilke said he’s starting to slow down, what with arthritis and all. But I think it’s a ruse: The last time I rode with him, it was all I could do to keep up.

As the family fun ride started, Hilke pulled out ahead of me, and I thought of little Alex Rishel riding in his bike trailer somewhere back in the crowd. In 75 years — at Bike Lexington 2083 — he just might be the next Jim Hilke.

Top photo: Shane Tedder, right, built the bicycle-powered blender with help from welder Patrick Garnett. He made smoothies with help from Jake Samson, 13, who supplied the pedal power.

Bottom photo:Bruce and Jessica Rishel of Versailles came with son Alex, 3, and daughter Anemone, 5. Photos/Tom Eblen

Ideas for training better young drivers

May 16, 2008

Jim Starks, a retired state trooper, asked if I remembered the most difficult part of the road test I took when I was 16 to get my driver’s license.

Parallel parking?

“That’s probably right,” he said. “You ever see anyone killed parallel parking?”

When teenage drivers die in accidents, it’s often because they don’t know how to react when something goes wrong at high speeds.

“Everybody makes mistakes driving,” Starks said. “But it’s what you do after you make a mistake that often determines whether you live or die.”

Starks was one of several people who called to respond to my column last Friday about how people drive too fast on rural roads. The column was prompted by a crash last week that killed two young people whose car ran off a rural Woodford County road and hit a tree.

The callers all made the same point: We could save a lot of lives if Kentucky teens got more intensive training behind the wheel. Not only would it help them survive their teenage years, but it would give them skills to keep them and others on the highways safe for the rest of their lives.

Driver’s education classes were once a high school staple. But many have disappeared because of lack of funding, insurance costs, liability concerns and a need to focus more instructional time on academics that are measured in standardized tests. Fayette County Public Schools, for example, no longer teach driver’s education.

Kentucky started tightening license requirements for teenage drivers in the mid-1990s after statistics showed the state had the nation’s highest death rate. The toughest rules came in 2006 when Kentucky adopted a graduated license system that requires more training and experience before young drivers can receive full licenses.

Graduated licenses and tougher seat belt laws are thought to be two reasons for a drop in Kentucky traffic deaths during the past two years. Only about 6 percent of Kentucky drivers are teenagers, yet they’re involved in about 20 percent of all crashes.

Starks said he investigated many traffic accidents during his 27 years as a trooper and state police detective. He saw the same thing over and over: Teen drivers would encounter a problem, overcompensate and crash.

So, in 1992, he and other law enforcement officers in Woodford County decided to do something about it. They found a narrow road in a county park, added a skid pad and got some old police cruisers. They gave serious hands-on training to young people as part of a driver’s education class at Woodford County High School.

During the five years the program was operating, no teens died in Woodford County accidents, said Starks, who retired in 1998.

“I think we saved several lives,” he said. “And I think if we did this on a statewide basis we would save a lot of lives.”

Richard Stafford, a Ph.D. student in public policy, agrees. He is developing a driver’s training program he hopes Kentucky will adopt. Stafford said he has received encouragement from Transportation Secretary Joe Prather and his predecessor, Bill Nighbert.

Part of Stafford’s idea is to use old state cars for driver’s training. He also would hire former police officers, who retire relatively young with decades of valuable traffic safety experience, to work part-time as driving instructors.

“A secondary benefit would be these kids being able to interact in a positive way with law enforcement officers,” he said.

Although Stafford said he is still developing his plan, he thinks it could be done statewide for about $10 million a year.

Another possible solution could be high-tech driving simulators, which get cheaper and more sophisticated all the time.

“Anything you can encounter on the street, we can do in here,” said Ronnie Day, director of the Kentucky Fire Commission, which owns one of the nation’s most advanced mobile driving simulators.

The commission, a part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, uses the simulator to train law enforcement and emergency personnel to drive firetrucks, ambulances and police cruisers.

“It’s similar to a video game, but much more sophisticated,” said Charlie Shaw, who manages the simulator. “I think it certainly could have a place in the school systems.”

There seems to be no shortage of good ideas for reducing highway carnage; smart people just have to figure out how to make them happen.

I think our kids are worth it. Do you?

Lessons from Bourbon Boot Camp

May 14, 2008

I reported for duty at Bourbon Boot Camp earlier this week. As a native Kentuckian, it seemed like the patriotic thing to do.

More than 40 other volunteers and I met at a downtown Lexington bar with Harlen Wheatley, the master distiller at Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort.

Over the next hour and a half, the 39-year-old chemist lectured us on the finer points of Kentucky’s signature beverage. We took sips of various products and learned about his craft.

Clear whiskey acquires bourbon’s distinctive color and flavor after years of seeping in and out of a white oak barrel’s charred walls. Wheatley discussed how bourbon’s taste is affected by age, grain mixtures, distillation processes and even variations in barrel wood.

But did you know that about 3 percent of bourbon evaporates through the barrel each year during aging? Or that 98 percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, but none of it in Bourbon County?

At $12 a head, Bourbon Boot Camp sold out weeks in advance. It was fun, interesting and one of the smarter marketing stunts I’ve seen.

It also made me think: What could the rest of Kentucky learn from its bourbon industry?

In the 1960s, bourbon fell out of favor as public tastes changed. It was considered your father’s drink — or your grandfather’s. Sales and production plummeted, and some distillers let quality slide.

Things began changing in the mid-1980s. Kentucky distillers began making small premium batches and selling “single barrel” brands. Bill Samuels of Maker’s Mark knew he had a good product, and he set the industry standard for creatively marketing it. In the process, he attracted fans around the world.

The high-end bourbon business is now booming.

Buffalo Trace celebrates a milestone Wednesday when it will roll out the 6 millionth barrel it has produced since Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. Helping roll out that barrel will be retired warehouse supervisor Jimmy Johnson, 92, who helped roll out the previous five milestone barrels.

Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace distillery leads bourbon camp Monday night at the Horse and Barrel Pub in Lexington. Photo/Tom Eblen

Buffalo Trace, which sits on a site where whiskey has been distilled since 1787, will make about 75,000 barrels of bourbon this year. Wheatley wishes he could make more.

“We’ve had to curtail some of the interest because there’s only so much product available,” he said, noting that it takes at least eight years for a batch of his bourbon to be ready for sale. “We can’t go into China, for instance, because we don’t have the juice.”

Kentucky’s bourbon production more than doubled from 1999 to 2006, and about 1 million barrels will be produced this year. But the industry isn’t just selling liquor, it’s selling an experience — a uniquely Kentucky experience.

In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a marketing effort to encourage visitors to tour seven of the state’s nine distilleries. An eighth distillery will join the tour next year, said Eric Gregory, association president.

Distilleries expect to get a lot more tourist traffic when the Ryder Cup comes to Louisville in September, and even more when the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games come to Lexington in 2010.

When people think of Kentucky, they think of bourbon — along with horses, fried chicken and basketball.

Economic success is often about figuring out your unique assets or abilities, building a brand and marketing it well. It’s about creating something special that others want to have or experience.

What other things could Kentucky use to build a successful brand in the global marketplace? It’s worth thinking about — perhaps over a glass of you-know-what.

A bike wreck teaches educator some life lessons

May 11, 2008

Life can change in an instant.

Stu Silberman, superintendent of the Fayette County Public Schools, learned that lesson on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Oct. 8, 2006.

He was on a leisurely bicycle ride with a friend among the horse farms of northern Fayette County. He was riding slow, probably too slow, making a left turn and trying to put a water bottle away when he lost his balance.

“The next thing I know, the front wheel is wobbling and that’s all I can remember,” he said. “Somehow or another, the bike flipped over and I landed on my right side.”

Silberman hit the road hard, breaking his collarbone, several ribs, a hand and, most seriously, shattering his hip joint. “Thank God I had my helmet on,” he said. “It cracked in three places.”

An ambulance rushed him to a hospital, where the next day he had the first of six surgeries. Over the next several weeks, his body would acquire an assortment of metal rods, plates and screws – and a serious staph infection, among other complications.

“My life completely changed on that day,” Silberman said. “There were two or three times at different points where I thought I was going to die.”

Silberman recently had what he hopes will be his last operation. Physically, he’s almost back to normal. Mentally, spiritually, emotionally and professionally, Silberman says he will never be the same. Like many people, he has found that a life-threatening event can also be life-changing – mostly for the better.

“The first thing I learned is that this is an extremely caring community,” said Silberman, a New Yorker who moved here from Owensboro in 2004 with ambitious goals for improving Lexington’s public schools.

“There were over 1,000 cards that were sent,” he said. “I didn’t know until much later how many prayer lists I was on at churches and temples all over the place.”

One of the most difficult adjustments Silberman has made since his recovery is that he no longer rides his bicycle outside, where he used to put in 1,000 miles a year.

“Boy, oh boy, do I miss it,” he said. “That was my combination hobby and exercise, my outlet, my everything.”

Silberman has given up outdoor cycling until retirement, which he expects to be at least seven years away.

“If I pop over, I could be back in the hospital,” he said. “If it happened again, I think the community would have a much different reaction to it, and it would be very difficult for me to explain. … I have a responsibility to this whole community, and I feel that.”

To compensate, Silberman rides his bicycle in his garage. It is hooked up to a high-tech stationary trainer and a laptop computer. The system measures his speed, heart rate and other vital statistics in addition to tracking mileage. An integrated video system shows him riding stages from the Tour de France as he pedals.

While he misses the open road, Silberman loves the high-tech gadgetry. He lost 25 pounds after the accident, but gained 35 back. He needs to work some of that off, plus stay in shape for a cycling trip to France he has planned for retirement.

A long road back

Silberman’s wife of 38 years, Kathy, was his constant caregiver through months of recovery from surgery and infection and the long, painful weeks of rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

“I think he makes time for things more now,” Kathy Silberman said. “The idea that you’re here today, and tomorrow you might not be.”

The Silbermans were active in their Owensboro church but were too busy for church after moving to Lexington. Silberman called the accident a “major wake-up call.” During his recovery, they found a new home at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

“There is no question that your faith is strengthened, because when you’re lying there in bed, that’s what you’re thinking about,” he said. “You’re doing a lot of praying. At least I did.”

Melissa Bacon, a school board member who belongs to the same church, said Silberman has become extremely active – leading a stewardship campaign and leadership classes.

“I think the accident definitely allowed him to reach out and depend on his faith,” Bacon said. “I also think he’s a little more sentimental, because he appreciates things more.”

Silberman said he no longer takes simple things, like being able to walk, for granted. He has new respect for doctors, nurses and other caregivers, as well as for disabled people.

“I’ve just become really thankful for lots of stuff,” he said. “Being able to step into the shower – it’s just part of a daily chore until you can’t do it. It really makes you think about what you’re doing today, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

Silberman remains hard-charging, arriving at the office by 7:30 a.m. and frequently attending school events in the evenings and on weekends. Before the accident, Silberman said, he would stay up half the night responding to

e-mail. Now, he tries to be in bed by 9 p.m. and rises at 4 a.m. to do e-mail.

“You know, I’m kind of a workaholic,” said Silberman, 56, who is in his 34th year as an educator.

Speeding up the clock

Silberman credits his staff with keeping things running smoothly during his recovery.

“This school district didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “I really think we got better while I was gone, which is what I would have expected them to do.”

Silberman thinks he has become “more grandfatherly” with his staff.

One reason may be that he became a grandfather eight months ago when one of his three daughters gave birth to a daughter, Allie. Silberman’s motto for the Fayette school system is “It’s about kids,” and you don’t have to be around him long to see he’s all about this one.

Silberman said his accident has led him to focus more time and attention on staff development, mentoring and leadership training. Plus, he plans to take his broken helmet around to elementary schools to talk about bicycle safety.

He is especially proud that six staff members over the course of his career have become superintendents.

“There’s this sense that you have to pass along those kinds of things because you may not be here tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t think about that all the time – that I might not be here tomorrow – but subconsciously what ends up happening is your sense of urgency, or your clock, speeds up.”

That sense of urgency has made him put even more pressure on himself and his staff to achieve the school district’s goals of raising test scores and improving student proficiency.

Silberman said his stamina is back.

He recalled that Cathy Fine, the principal at Glendover Elementary, took ballroom dancing lessons last year. At her school’s winter program, which Silberman attended, she and her dance school partner put on a show for the kids.

Silberman saw Fine again recently at a school district career fair. Suddenly, he said, he grabbed her by the hand, and they took a few spins around the room, much to everyone’s surprise.

“I wanted our people to see that I’m back, and I’m dancing.”

Oxford American features Lexington landmark

May 10, 2008

In its latest issue, the Southern literary and culture magazine Oxford American focuses on our homes. It’s not exactly the Southern Living view of things, which makes it all the more interesting. One of the best articles profiles 11 modern masterpiece homes in the South, as chosen by contemporary architects, including the Miller House in Lexington.

French architect José Oubrerie designed the house, completed in 1992, for Bob and Penny Miller. After Bob Miller’s death, the land was sold for development and the empty house was vandalized.

Michael Speaks, the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Design, writes a short, perceptive essay about the boxy, concrete house, which many Lexingtonians have found difficult to appreciate.

“The story of the Miller House is emblematic of the struggle in Kentucky, and indeed throughout the South, between the soul of modernism — note how the Miller House is both a specific place and yet universal — and the rapacious logic of suburbanization, which produces the stamp of the universal on specific places,” he writes.

A few articles from the Oxford American’s special “Home Sweet Home” issue can be read on the magazine’s Web site, although you’ll have to buy the magazine ($4.95) to see the “Beyond Nostalgia” feature that includes the Miller House. It’s worth a look.

Your life right now, in one sentence

May 9, 2008

I love Facebook, the online social networking tool. It was created for college students, but I find it more useful for adults.

Over the years, you collect a diverse and far-flung set of friends, but you rarely make the time to contact them to see what’s new in their lives. On Facebook, that information comes to you automatically.

My favorite part of Facebook is the “status update.” That’s where you say in one sentence what you’re doing, thinking or feeling, and it goes out to all of your Facebook friends with a time stamp.

Today’s lineup on my Facebook home page was classic. It included the following:

  • (A friend in Detroit) is very worried about Lebanon today. 2 hours ago
  • (A photojournalist friend in Florida) is editing audio. 3 hours ago
  • (A foreign correspondent friend) is back from Afghan, which was good, and Dubai, which is weirdsville, and is now in Moscow, which is chilly, and soon to be headed for the states, which is far. 5 hours ago
  • (A young friend in Australia) ‘s favourite food is risotto. 7 hours ago
  • (A friend in Maine) has high spirits, but a creaky knee. 16 hours ago

So how would you sum up your life at this moment, in one sentence? Comment below.

Is the problem our rural roads? Or our drivers?

May 8, 2008

When I heard about the crash on “roller coaster road” that killed two young people, I thought: Oh, no. Not again.

I’ve been driving Dry Ridge Road in Woodford County for more than 30 years, usually while squeezing the steering wheel and hoping somebody wouldn’t pop over a hill and hit me head-on.

At least 10 people have died in five accidents on that three-mile ribbon of pavement since 1984, according to the Herald-Leader archives.

My first thought: Something should be done about that road.

My second thought: The road isn’t the problem.

I drove out there Thursday morning, just after the daily parade of commuters who use Dry Ridge as a shortcut from south Lexington to the Bluegrass Parkway and Frankfort.

Friends of Hannah Landers, 17, a Dunbar High School senior, and Ben Thompson, 22, of Wilmore, had put up two white crosses to remember them. The crosses were in front of a big, skinned-up tree at the end of muddy skid marks. It was where the 2007 Suzuki Reno carrying them and two other young people crashed late Monday morning.

The four apparently had gone joy riding on Dry Ridge, where if you drive too fast you can leave the pavement for a few seconds – or forever.

There were two bouquets of flowers, and a yellow ribbon was tied around the tree. On the ground beside the tree was a journal, wet from rain. It had a few pictures of the smiling young people, sweet notes and many pages that will never be filled.

The memorial is less than a mile from four other white crosses. They are nailed to a tree where a van crashed in September 1999, killing three tobacco workers and a 5-year-old boy. Speed and alcohol were factors in that crash.

As Kentucky country roads go, Dry Ridge is in good shape – 20 feet wide with solid grass shoulders. It was resurfaced and restriped two years ago, and 45 mph speed limit signs are posted in several places.

“If you drive the speed limit, it’s a pretty safe road,” said Buan Smith, Woodford County’s highway engineer. “But people drive quite fast. You can see where they’ve bottomed out jumping some of the hills.”

Wilbur Hill has lived and farmed on Dry Ridge Road since 1944. He agrees it’s a good road. But he has seen a lot of tragedy.

“My son pulled some girls out of a car one time at the same tree where those kids were killed,” Hill said. “We had another young man got killed just beyond our driveway, about 20 years ago. My boys were out that night, and it scared me to death.”

While he sees occasional joy riders – “The kids get reckless and like to get airborne” – he is more concerned about the commuters who zip by every morning and evening, going 10 or 20 mph over the speed limit and paying little attention to the double-yellow line.

“It’s the same cars every day,” he said. “People aren’t careful enough; they don’t anticipate the curves and hills. They’ve posted the speed limit several places, but that doesn’t slow them down.”

Kentuckians love their blacktop. Usually, our first reaction to a tragic wreck is to say the road needs to be wider, flatter, straighter. We’re always eager to four-lane the most scenic of rural roads, whether it needs it or not.

There are more sensible reactions.

We could warn our kids about the dangers of joy riding. Still, the smartest kids will do the dumbest things. Always have, always will.

But teenagers aren’t the main problem.

Kentuckians of all ages drive too fast on country roads that were designed a century or two ago for horses and wagons, not Dodge Ram pickups and Escalades.

Rural roads should be well-built and maintained, just as Dry Ridge Road is.

Beyond that, we have two choices: We can spend all of our resources flattening, straightening and four-laning Kentucky into asphalt ugliness, or we can slow down and be more careful.

Something should be done, and I think you know what it is.

For sale: Hunter S. Thompson’s childhood home — bullet holes, Gates of Hell not included

May 7, 2008

The Realtor’s listing says it all: “Although the current children are perfectly normal – Hunter S. Thompson grew up here!”

That’s right, the Gonzo journalist’s childhood home in Louisville is for sale.

Thompson’s father, Jack, bought the two-story, stucco bungalow in the Cherokee Triangle for $4,100 in the winter of 1943. The asking price now for 2437 Ransdell Ave. is $435,000. (UPDATE: The house sold June 24 for $412,500, according to the property records database of The Courier-Journal.)

Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005 at age 67, is almost as famous for his wild drug- and alcohol-induced behavior as for his rambling, first-person narratives that became known as Gonzo Journalism. The Rolling Stone magazine correspondent and author of several books, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is perhaps most famous locally for his classic 1970 magazine story, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

“There are 40 million stories about Hunter in the neighborhood, and they all center around this house,” said Sandy Gulick of Kentucky Select Properties, the listing agent.

“Jim Thompson, nine years younger, remembered his older brother as a wild man who terrorized their house,” author William McKeen writes in Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson, which will be published in July by W.W. Norton.

McKeen said Jim Thompson told him about an elaborate tableau of the Gates of Hell that his brother painted on his bedroom floor. “He kept a rug over it, but required little prompting to reveal it to visitors,” McKeen writes.

Unfortunately – or, perhaps, fortunately – the Gates of Hell were sanded off the floor years ago, said McKeen, who heads the journalism school at the University of Florida.

The bullet holes also have been patched, said Hunter Thompson’s childhood friend, Gerald Tyrrell.

“I was in the house with him when he took his .22 rifle and, by mistake, put a bullet through the bedroom floor,” Tyrrell, 69, said in an interview Wednesday.

“The bullet went through the china cabinet downstairs and missed a plate by not much. There was a shard of wood in the corner of the cabinet that was just hanging. His mother and grandmother were out of the house at the time, so we glued it back and nobody ever noticed.”

Tyrrell said he has fond memories of the house: “We went to Hunter’s house every day after school, or all day if there wasn’t school. All of the neighborhood kids were there.”

Thompson amassed a large army of lead soldiers in the basement, which they used to wage epic battles in the in fortifications they dug in the backyard. His bedroom was filled with books – he was always a voracious reader – and lots of mementoes, including a flag he swiped from the nearby golf course, Tyrrell said.

When Tyrrell was in high school, his father made him stop hanging out with Thompson, who by then was frequently in trouble with the law for a wide assortment of petty crimes. After serving 30 days in jail on a robbery charge, Thompson left Louisville for the Air Force and returned only occasionally.

The 2,600-square-foot bungalow has been owned for 21 years by Rick McDonough, an editor with The Courier-Journal.

“An awful lot of people drive by and snap pictures,” McDonough said. After Thompson’s suicide, several people knocked on his door to express their grief, and somebody even left a filter-tip cigar and flowers on the sidewalk.

“It’s a curiosity,” he said. “But I don’t know that anyone’s willing to pay a premium for it.”