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Tom Cotton: 'Most likely to start World War III'

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 01:28 PM PST

The reviews of a move of Sen. Tom Cotton to the CIA have been tough in many quarters. Take Paul Waldman in the Washington Post:

He recounts Cotton's support of torture and of persecuting even innocent relatives of people who violate Iran sanctions.

In short, calling Cotton a "hawk" does not begin to describe how terrifying his views are. If at any time in the past few years you had asked me, "Which future Republican president would be most likely to start World War III?," my first answer would have been "Tom Cotton" without hesitation, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
A similar tone struck in Daily Beast.

Cotton remains clueless about torture. He seems to base his beliefs on the efficacy of torture on B-movies and dog-eared Tom Clancy novels
My favorite criticism so far? Julian Assange:

Does @realDonaldTrump know that his avowed enemy neocon warmonger Bill Kristol spent a million dollars getting Tom Cotton into office? Cotton as head of CIA would embolden the neocon axis in his presidency and likely lead to Pence-Cotton in 2020.
Julian's off on one point. Cotton would never accept the No. 2 spot.

Here's Reason's headline take:

The Senate would lose an authoritarian who wants to crack down on immigrants and fight the drug war. But he's also a hawk in favor of foreign interventions.
Charles Pierce calls Cotton terrifying and dangerous.

But it's Cotton's elevation to the top job out in Langley that ought to scare the daylights out of the rest of the world. We've dealt with the bobble-throated slapdick in this shebeen ever since he came out of Arkansas in a subsequent wave of crazy to the one that produced Pompeo. Rarely has someone arrived so absolutely sure of everything he thinks he knows, and rarely has someone arrived who so holds the intellect of the people who disagree with him in such obvious contempt.

This is the guy who was the guiding force behind a letter to the leaders of Iran telling them not to conclude the nuclear deal with the previous president because a subsequent Congress—Tom Cotton, Smartest Man In The World, presiding genius—could (and probably would) revoke it. He also doesn't think waterboarding is torture. If Cotton weren't the most brilliant man in his mirror every morning (he went to Harvard; you probably didn't) you'd think his reasons for believing this were incomprehensibly lame. From CNN:

"Waterboarding isn't torture. We do waterboarding on our own soldiers in the military," Cotton argued with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room." Blitzer interjected, "But the US doesn't do it anymore." "If experienced intelligence officials come to the President of the United States and say we think this terrorist has critical information and we need to obtain it and this is the only way we can obtain it — it's a tough call. But the presidency is a tough job. And if you're not ready to make those tough calls, you shouldn't seek the office. Donald Trump's a pretty tough guy, and he's ready to make those tough calls," Cotton said. Blitzer reminded Cotton of his colleague Sen. John McCain, who himself was tortured as a POW during the Vietnam War, and says that torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and International Law. "On this one, I disagree," Cotton said, "Anything that American troops volunteer for, and radio DJs volunteer for, is not torture. If it has to be done to save American lives, that's a tough call."

Nobody this arrogant, this absolutely sure of himself, should be anywhere near the head of any intelligence agency. Mike Pompeo is just an unqualified nebbish who'll be promoted, if he is, because he climbed on board the Trump Train when everybody else was running away from it. Tom Cotton is deeply, genuinely dangerous.

Derrick Gragg of Tulsa reported to be next athletic director at University of Arkansas

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 01:19 PM PST

KNWA is reporting that Derrick Gragg, currently athletic director at Tulsa, has been tapped to be the next athletic director at the University of Arkansas, succeeding the fired Jeff Long.

UPDATE: As yet, nothing from university and others are saying no decision is expected this week.

If so, it means there will be an athletic director in place when a decision is made, perhaps soon, on a new Razorback football coach. In addition to former Hog assistant Gus Malzahn, now riding high at Auburn, speculation on that job includes coaches at Memphis and Clemson.

Gragg is currently in his fifth season at Tulsa. He worked under Frank Broyles from 2000-06, rising to deputy athletic director.  He was A.D. at Eastern Michigan previously. From his Tulsa biography:

In October 2015, Gragg released his first book titled "40 Days of Direction: Life Lessons from the Talented Ten", which shares life experiences as a collegiate athlete [Vanderbilt football] in hopes to provide a blueprint for today's student-athlete.

A former collegiate wide receiver, Gragg lettered four years at Vanderbilt while earning his bachelor's degree in human development in 1992. He earned his master's degree in sports administration from Wayne State University in 1999. Gragg received his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas in May of 2004 and also taught over a dozen college courses during his tenure there as an athletic administrator.

A native of Huntsville, Ala., Gragg was inducted into the Huntsville-Madison County (Ala.) Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. He is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
Hat tip to reformed sportswriter Scott Faldon of Fort Smith who tabbed Gragg for this job last week. Even if it turns out to be wrong.

Thursday: Open line and the headlines

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:32 PM PST

The open line and the daily news report.

OBU professor says it's OK to vote for Roy Moore, even if he is molester

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:12 PM PST

Here from The Federalist (organ of the right-wing group hoping to pack the judiciary with the right sort of judges for all time) is an article by Tully Borland, associate professor of philosophy at Ouachita Baptist University, who says Alabama should vote for Roy Moore  for U.S. Senate even if he did what he is accused of doing.

It covers a lot of ground, beginning here:

Here is one thing we know and should admit from the start: in his early thirties, Moore had a penchant for dating teenagers. Apparently, this was not an uncommon occurrence during this time. In fact, this practice has a long history and is not without some merit if one wants to raise a large family.
Borland accepts the word of Moore and defenders, and not the reporting of the Washington Post and others, in discrediting women who said Moore tried to molest them.

But suppose he did try to have sex with two unwilling teens? Even then, Borland says, it's never wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils. To Borland, Moore is less evil than opponent Doug Jones, because Jones supports abortion rights, including in late term when the handful of abortions that are performed nearly always relate to severe health problems for mother and/or fetus. Borland sees no nuance.

Why are no Republicans or Democrats calling for Jones to step aside if not for the fact that they are really not that serious about the immorality of supporting infanticide in the womb? If Moore should step aside, so should Jones. 
Borland's capsule bio describes him as "superhero against the dark forces of political correctness."

Real news: Tough coverage of the Forrest City School District

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 11:12 AM PST

Times are hard in the newspaper business, you've no doubt heard, maybe even more in smaller communities. So today a tip of the hat to the Forrest City Times-Herald for close examination of the bedrock of most towns, the public school system.

Dr. Tiffany Hardrick, a 1994 Forrest City High graduate, has been superintendent since 2014. Recent reporting in the Times-Herald indicates she's adding in Arkansas to a resume checkered by controversy at a charter school in New Orleans and public schools in Newark, N.J.. The record includes allegations of academic cheating in New Orleans and financial questions. In Arkansas, the Forrest City reporter notes business being done with a long-time Hardrick associate and the housing of a 20 teachers recruited from the Philippines. The newspaper said they've been crammed into houses in Madison at exorbitant rents paid to school-connected owners.

The superintendent won't talk to the newspaper. The School Board has its own problems. One, the newspaper reported, was barred from visiting a school. The School District has canceled a tiny bit of advertising it did to honor a top student.

You have to read it all to appreciate what's up. The newspaper, which has a pay wall, provided copies of relevant articles to share.
Here's reporter Caleb Talley's recitation of controversies surrounding the superintendent.

Here's publisher Tamara Johnson's followup editorial.

And here's an attaboy letter to the editor from Travis Frank, an Episcopal priest.

If we had a state Education Department worried about something more than making excuses for charter schools, maybe they could shake somebody loose to take a look at things in St. Francis County.

Forrest City at least still has a newspaper covering the local schools like the dew.  Autocratic public officials can get away with a lot when nobody is watching.

Sidelight: When Hardrick was chosen, one of the other finalists was Roy Brooks, fired as Little Rock superintendent and then later moved quietly along from the eStem charter school where he landed next.

Why a judge chose law schools over cancer research in benefits from cigarette lawsuit

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 09:55 AM PST

Circuit Judge Tim Fox last week ordered that $2.2 million remaining in the $45 million settlement fund from a lawsuit by Marlboro Light smokers should be split between the state's two law schools to finance scholarships for students interested in public interest law.

The judge had indicated at the outset these were appropriate indirect beneficiaries
of money paid by a tobacco company in damages for misleading smokers about the harmful effects of their product.

But the judge solicited suggestions on other uses of the money, as a reader observed in a note sent to me. The note contends the ideas submitted were, in several cases, directly related to the ills of smoking. If the judge wasn't going to consider them, the note read, why ask?

 There WERE many suggestions from others.

You can read them all here.  They are wide-ranging — from cancer research to veterans relief to homeless shelters. At the top of the list were these, with numbers representing the number of times mentioned by members of the class:

In its initial request for fees, the Thrash Law Firm, attorneys for the 20,000 class action plaintiffs, had argued for an award for charitable interests from the fund. It specifically suggested the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Arkansas Children's Hospital, UAMS, the Lung Association and the Cancer Society Action Network. The filing said: "These organizations have voiced public support for this matter and/or have joined in amicus briefs before this court and the Arkansas Supreme Court. Now that the case has produced a substantial fund for the benefit of the class, it would be only fair should those entities — which as part of their focus smoking cessation, prevention and/or treatment — share in the payments made by Phillip Morris."

The judge ruled last week that he was sticking with an award to the law schools. He said the organizations suggested were worthy, but he wrote that the system of law had been critical in winning the case and the award should be consistent with "the nature of the underlying action." He said scholarship funds at both the Fayetteville and Little Rock law schools supported people who might practice law in the public interest.

His complete reasoning, including tributes to lawyers for whom the scholarship funds were established (the late Dean Richard Atkinson in Fayetteville and the Morley family in Little Rock), can be read here.

On the same day last week, the judge authorized a final $1.5 million payment to the Thrash Law Firm. The firm had been awarded $11.3 million in earlier orders for fees and costs.

North Little Rock teen dies from gun wound

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 09:02 AM PST

North Little Rock police reported today the death of a 17-year-old while handling a gun.

Police answered a call about 11 p.m. last Thursday to 4513 Magnolia. They found Gunnar Chassells, 17, dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted wound. Several witnesses were interviewed.

The preliminary investigation revealed the victim started playing with a firearm that had been laying on a table in the residence. Witness statements indicated Chassells spun the cylinder, aimed the firearm towards himself and the gun discharged striking him in the head.

The investigation is continuing. Cause of death is "Gunshot Wound" and manner of death is "Pending" the completed investigation and toxicology results.

Supreme Court approves award of costs in lawsuit over state surplus spending

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 08:28 AM PST

The Arkansas Supreme Court today approved the request by lawyers for plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional distribution of General Improvement Fund money under control of legislators through regional planning districts.

The lawyers — Mike Wilson and John Ogles — had asked for $2,796.85 in various court costs (not attorney fees). The defendants — DFA Director Larry Walther, Auditor Andrea Lea, Treasurer Dennis Milligan and the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District — had argued against the assessment of costs as an infringement of the state's immunity from lawsuit. Wilson and Ogles said court precedent allowed costs against the state in illegal exaction cases (illegal spending of state money).

The costs were approved in a per curiam order without discussion. Justice Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack voted against granting costs for the winning attorneys. The Supreme Court found that the scheme for spending state surplus was unconstitutional because the appropriations lacked specific purposes for the spending. That was done later, at legislative guidance, from block grants to regional agencies. Still pending in the lower court is an effort to get a circuit judge to release unspent money for about $1 million worth of projects designated by legislators.  This will require some sleight-of-hand in getting the judge to agree the money was already spent, though it has not been distributed. Let's hope Judge Chris Piazza gets it right this time around.

Little Rock Marriott offered for sale UPDATE

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 07:42 AM PST

The Marriott Hotel in downtown Little Rock, purchased by a Memphis investment group in 2012, is up for sale.

I have more calls to make, but in a summary document, a sales agent said it:

... is pleased to offer, on an exclusive basis, the opportunity to acquire the 418-room Marriott Little Rock ("Property" or "Hotel"),
a 20-story full-service hotel attached to Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center in the heart of the CBD. With over 40,000 square feet ("SF") of on-site function space at the Marriott, and an additional 220,000 SF at the attached Convention Center, the Marriott is Little Rock's premier group facility. Additionally, the Hotel's urban CBD location along the Arkansas River – near the State Capitol, Clinton Presidential Center, the River Market District, Robinson Center, 11.5 million SF of CBD office space, and many other notable attractions – generates substantial corporate and leisure transient room nights. The Property opened as a Marriott in 2013, converted from the Peabody Hotel with approximately $16 million ($38,278/key) invested in the conversion/renovation. The Marriott is being offered unencumbered of the current management agreement with Davidson Hotels & Resorts, providing complete operational flexibility to a new owner.

The offering  calls it the "market-leading hotel and default convention center accommodations."

It also comments:

With very little new hotel projects under construction across the entire Little Rock market – only 340 rooms in 3 projects total – the Marriott will not see any new meaningful competition and will continue as the dominant full-service property well into the foreseeable future.
The neighborhood HAS seen a spate of small hotel developments in recent years, with a couple of the latest at Fourth and Rock. There's long been talk, but so far limited action, on the development of a hotel in the Boyle Building at Capitol and Main.

The offering doesn't list a sales price or existing debt. When purchased in 2012 by Fairwood Capital LLC of Memphis, the previous owners had a $24 million note with the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.

A purchase now, ahead of an expected increase in the federal lending rate, could allow savings in financing. As for the market: in June, the Little Rock hotel market reported 65 percent occupancy, compared with a 73 percent national rate and down 3 percent from the same month a year earlier. Full-service hotels, with major restaurants, can be harder to operate says my source in the real estate business, compared with a smaller hotel offering little beyond a breakfast bar.

Any sale requires approval from the city because of the city-owned facilities the hotel shares.

UPDATE: Gretchen Hall, director of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the owner of the building had made her agency aware of the marketing effort because of the shared facilities. She said there were "evaluating potential opportunities" and "not at all" cause for any concern. "It's just a kind of standard business practice."

Hall also said occupancy for eight hotels in the central part of Little Rock that are key to visitor business had lately been around 72 percent, stronger than the city as a whole.

She said she was confident in Fairfield as a long-term owner of the Marriott if a testing of the market doesn't produce a sufficient purchase offer.

Report: Trump plan to oust Secretary of State Tillerson puts Tom Cotton at CIA

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 07:11 AM PST

From the New York Times moments ago:

The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
There are obvious pros and cons to this plan, one being the end of Cotton's representation of Arkansas in the U.S. Senate.

If my memory is correct, a vacancy in the seat would be filled by gubernatorial appointment until the next statewide general election (November 2018, unless the opening occurs less than four months before the election) when there'd been an election to serve out the remaining time on the term — two years in this case.

UPDATE: A lot of comment on Cotton as a choice, particularly since, among others, his refusal to accept reporting about Russian election meddling and his defense of waterboarding.

Tax legislation heightens inequality, limits state governments. No wonder Tom Cotton loves it.

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 05:52 AM PST

The New York Times' analysis of pending tax legislation should make you gasp.

It's a gift to the rich, larded with special interest junk. It will benefit the working poor and middle class only in the Never Never Land of Trickle Down.

The tax plan has been marketed by President Trump and Republican leaders as a straightforward if enormous rebate for the masses, a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. But as the bill has been rushed through Congress with scant debate, its far broader ramifications have come into focus, revealing a catchall legislative creation that could reshape major areas of American life, from education to health care.

Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements.

Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

With a potentially far-reaching dimension, elements in both the House and Senate bills could constrain the ability of states and local governments to levy their own taxes, pressuring them to limit spending on health care, education, public transportation and social services. In their longstanding battle to shrink government, Republicans have found in the tax bill a vehicle to broaden the fight beyond Washington.

The result is a behemoth piece of legislation that could widen American economic inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people — especially in high-tax states like California and New York, which, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic.
Arkansas, incidentally, happens to be a state with a relatively high income tax. Those who itemize deductions in Arkansas will lose from elimination of that deduction.

Also note this head-slapping fact:

By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.

UAMS employees hear of need for more budget adjustments, sooner

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 05:43 AM PST

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had a staff meeting Tuesday to talk about the tight budget. Reporters weren't allowed to attend. But those who did are saying the message seemed to be that even more cuts were necessary soon than previously understood.

A note from an anonymous writer, its contents generally confirmed by another attendee, said:

Yesterday at the UAMS Town Hall meeting, Dr. Stephanie Gardner and other leaders shared the information that UAMS has budgeted a $39 million deficit, but is currently on track to have a $72 million deficit this fiscal year. They have committed to the UA President that the institution will finish with a $39 million deficit this budget year (so somehow cutting $33 million in the coming 6 months) and no deficit next year. So, basically cutting $72 million from the current operation by next July. [Budget years run July 1 through June 30.]

They didn't say this, but the ONLY way that can happen is with major layoffs. They said "we don't know how this will happen, we are working on it now." But, if the goal is to cut $33 million in 6 months, then the firings are going to have to start soon.
I asked for comment from UAMS. Vice Chancellor Leslie Taylor responded:

The leadership team has committed to [UA System president Donald] Dr. Bobbitt that we will not exceed the $39 million deficit we projected in our budget approved by the Board of Trustees for Fiscal Year 2018 [which ends June 30]. Here's what Dr. Gardner said in yesterday's meeting. This is taken from her remarks:

1. We need to recognize the fact that Academic Health Center's across the country are facing many of the same challenges.

2. We can't sacrifice our mission of improving the health and healthcare of Arkansans.

3. But we also have to recognize that we have an operational model that isn't sustainable.

4. Everything is on the table….we need to look at every aspect of the services and programs we are offering and determine what is critical and what is sustainable.

5. We can't just cut out way out of this…we have to continue to invest in the areas that are vital to our future.

6. Our best outcome will certainly come about from a lot of creative minds providing ideas and being willing to help find solutions.

I spoke with her a few minutes ago about your email and she stressed that this deficit represents a small percentage of our overall $1.4 billion budget. We are exploring all options to reduce the deficit including increasing clinical productivity, improving efficiency of operations across all areas of our university and renegotiating or terminating contracts. As she said in her remarks in No. 5 above, we can't just cut our way out of this. If we do that we will fail. We have to invest in the future of UAMS.

UAMS employs more than 10,000 people and has operations in 73 of the state's 75 counties. We reported earlier on restrictions on filling vacancies and suspension of some pay raises as first steps in response to news that the budget was to be balanced by drawing on reserve money.

Matt Lauer issues statement

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 05:30 AM PST

Is there any good way to respond to serial sexual assault allegations?

Here's what Matt Lauer offered this morning, for release at the top of the Today show from which he was fired:

"There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

"Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

"Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I'm committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It's been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace."

There is a tavern

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Powerhouse vocalist Charlotte Taylor channels the Memphis blues. Given the tenure and pace of Charlotte Taylor's performance schedule, it's amazing that people are still discovering her, but that seemed to be exactly what was happening at Cajun's Wharf on a cool Thursday evening by the Arkansas River earlier this month. Cajun's, Google Maps says, is 138.4 miles away from Beale Street, but you wouldn't have known it that night. The riverside icehouse was lit up in red, Dave Williams II was peeling out a blistering saxophone solo and Taylor, dressed in black and sporting crimson lipstick, was ringleading the entire affair from center stage. Or, as she'd put it in an interview earlier that week, directing the ensemble "when to get lower, when to get higher, when to slow down, the endings. It's sort of a language within the blues," she said. "Or like an orchestra. I'm not big on a super-rehearsed band. I want them to know the songs, but I want it to be organic enough that we can go somewhere that's in the moment."

The band ended a feelgood mashup of KC & The Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)" and "Get Down Tonight" — and eased into a greasy "Hound Dog" with sparkling passages of unison between the sax and Matt Stone's guitar. A couple perched on barstools along the dance floor's perimeter was dancing as much as they could from a seated position. The group of twentysomethings behind me, evidently in the throes of the riverside hangout's signature rum punch, "Play-de-do," hooped and hollered after each saxophone solo. One of them threatened to quit his job and "just be a roadie for this band."

Taylor, a Heber Springs native, Little Rock resident and longtime staple of the Central Arkansas bar scene, tends to sprinkle a little Beale Street wherever she plays. Her take on the blues is decidedly Memphian, but informed by all the rock, ragtime and electricity the genre's picked up along its scattered history: jug band rhythms, heavy harmonica, explosive vocals. Her voice is enormous and remarkably elastic: It's big and brash enough to do justice to "Chain of Fools" and "Bobby McGee," and sultry enough to turn on a dime for "Pretty, Pretty," a song Taylor wrote after a Beale Street bystander tipped his hat to her as she passed. "I just always remembered the way he said it," she told me. "Pretty, pretty, keep on walkin.' "

Armed with the music she'd absorbed from her mother, also a singer, and her grandfather, who played the banjo, Taylor cut her teeth singing in clubs and resorts around Eden Isle on Greers Ferry Lake: the Red Apple Inn & Country Club, the old River Ranch Resort, the Thunderbird Country Club. "The long story," she said, "is that when I was 3 years old, my sister taught me a song in Russian, to the tune of "There Is a Tavern in the Town," and she sort of paraded me around with it. That's when I realized singing would get you attention." It turns out the Russian was a less necessary component of the mix, though, than the deep-seated, declamatory voice in the making. Taylor saw KoKo Taylor and Buddy Guy play, studied the canons of Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin, and caught a blues festival in Little Rock in the 1980s where, she says, she got "hooked on the blues. ... They blocked off the street, and there were just people of all cultures and ages dancing and having a great time together. I was so intrigued by that — how loving and fun it was, and how this music was bringing people together. So I decided that I was gonna start a blues band." She did, and with guitarist George Martinez, Taylor scored a contract to record on Memphis' esteemed Hi Records label. "They put studio musicians like The Memphis Horns and some great players in there. One track was even produced by Willie Mitchell at Royal Studios," she said, referring to the man responsible for many of Al Green's recordings and arrangements. A few iterations later, Taylor formed the band Gypsy Rain and became a familiar presence at festival and bar gigs in Central Arkansas, where she blends her original songs with dance covers. "It's just a party thing," she said. "I like to entertain the crowd, and I feel like if you throw in some songs that they know, they feel a connection to you, and then they're gonna feel open to hearing your songs." You can check those songs out at Taylor's Bandcamp site, and keep an eye out for her in North Little Rock at Parrot Beach Cafe on Thursday, Dec. 14; at Cregeen's Irish Pub Friday, Dec. 15; and at Core Public House Saturday, Dec. 23.

Honky-tonk hybrid

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Bonnie Montgomery channels a legacy of formidable White County women.
I'm beginning to wonder if there's something in the water in White County. The county seems to have a propensity for producing bona fide bad-ass women musicians. Mid-south's outlaw crooner and Searcy native Bonnie Montgomery, who toured with Gossip when country legend Kitty Wells died, recalls driving bandmates crazy when she and Beth Ditto, also from White County, belted "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk" over and over into the wee hours, their first chance to share a few drinks and get loose. The two eventually performed it as a duet, singing it together stateside at LA's Fonda Theater to close out the tour.

Montgomery acknowledged she never gave a second thought to her fearless self-direction because, as it turns out, all the women in her life were bosses. Her grandmother ran a successful beauty shop, then opened a music store that sold pianos and organs. She eventually ran for mayor, and navigated all those positions in the context of 1960s small-town Arkansas. "She was larger than life, really beautiful and strong. She gave me a lot of life lessons I use all the time," Montgomery said.

"I never thought twice about being the boss lady in the band and writing the songs and calling the artistic shots," she said, laughing, "though I've definitely noticed a difference in my attitude in dealing with business in the music industry. That includes clubs and club owners and all of that, because that is mostly still men and I'm definitely up against some challenges that my male counterparts don't have to face."

For Montgomery, music was truly foundational. Her mother eventually took over the music store and expanded its selection. Playing music at family gatherings was a regular thing. Montgomery grew up sight-reading country classics from the likes of Hank Williams Sr. to play chords on the upright piano, jamming along with her family, as well as friends who just happened to be session musicians — Memphis' Sun Records-caliber musicians, at that — come holiday time. "We didn't watch TV or play recorded music," she said. "We'd just sing." Eventually she chose to study formal classical voice.

"It was sort of my way of going metal or punk, but instead I went classical," she explained. "It was so rebellious in a way, so different from what I was raised by." But somewhere along the way the many choir directors and conductors who called the shots — mostly male — really got to Montgomery. "I was really tired of men telling me how to use my voice," she said. She was singing a lot of medieval choral works then and, although she loved it, she decided to go back to her roots.

"It was so liberating because I could just sing however the hell I wanted to sing," she said of making the transition. "I've discovered a lot about myself in this exploration of going off the rails of the classical and going into a genre that has a lot fewer rules. It's been a really interesting journey." At times, that journey's been lonely. She worried about the dichotomy of her classical training — about being both a person who composed the opera "Billy Blythe," about the young life of Bill Clinton, and an outlaw country musician — until she realized that it all came from the same place. "It's all the same thing. Those two different parts of me are coming from the same place, and it's OK to blend them and talk about them in each different atmosphere and just be myself," she said.

Expect "Forever," the follow-up to Montgomery's self-titled 2014 debut, in February. Montgomery said the album, recorded at Dale Watson's Ameripolitan Studios in Austin, Texas, "captures the mysticism of West Texas, life on the road and love and loss." The new album's release will be announced on

Bringing Bach home

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

ASO's Katherine Williamson is spreading appreciation for classical music. The do-it-yourself music scene rarely incorporates classical music, but violinist Katherine Williamson, a member of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, is changing the way people experience recitals: She's bringing symphonic sounds into the living room, both hers and her friends'. She's begun a series of "pop-up recitals" with the Rockefeller String Quartet as a way to educate audiences about classical music in a comfortable setting. The performances also benefit charities.

It started with a rehearsal at her house. "We had a dress rehearsal for our recital at the Clinton [Presidential Center] and the violinist in my group said, 'Hey, maybe we should invite some people to prepare ourselves for the concert.' " Ten people were invited, but the quartet ended up with an audience of nearly 40. "They were crawling on my spiral stairs and sitting on my bed listening. It was great!" Williamson said. In the informal setting, the quartet could casually and informatively introduce their pieces. After getting such a positive response, Williamson and her friends decided to give more living room recitals.

Williamson, who was born and raised in St. Paul, Minn., in a family of musicians, began learning violin when she was a little more than 3 years old. After graduating from Indiana University in Bloomington with a bachelor's of arts degree in violin performance, she auditioned for the ASO, and relocated to Arkansas five years ago. Her position at the ASO allowed her to perform across the state, be a part of educational events and teach private lessons.

Cleverly titled "Bach in the House," Williamson's living room concerts make a point of giving back to the community, the first of which benefited Arkansas Women's Outreach. Williamson said she hoped more people would find the music accessible and familiar by offering casual lectures before the pieces. Members of the quartet encourage the audience to listen for the parts they themselves found most interesting, and both listener and the musician are able to form a connection with each other as the composition is played.

Comfortable settings, shared historical information and a focus on fundraising works toward Williamson's broader goal: to promote inclusivity in classical music. The classical music community is full of women, but as a student, Williamson saw there weren't as many women in such roles as music director, concertmistress and composer. Growing up, Williamson never felt her gender would limit her from being an active member of a symphony, though her older professors relayed tales of gender-specific struggles. Inspired by family members and a concertmistress from Indiana University, Williamson pursued ensemble positions in the field, spurred by seeing images of women in public positions of leadership. "If young generations of girls and underrepresented groups of women see women in leadership, it's a signal to what's possible," she said. That can be difficult when looking for compositions written by women for the concert repertoire; nearly all music written by women is contemporary.

Williamson added that the classical world has much work to do to include women of color, something she was conscious of when developing the "Bach in the House" series.

In addition to informal recitals, Williamson promotes Sharp, a group for young professionals open to anyone 21 and up. For $6 a month, recipients may attend all Arkansas Symphony events. More information on Sharp can be found at

Golden voice

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Nisheedah Golden is a mezzo soprano and a mentor.
Opera in the Rock, a local nonprofit arts organization, is home to some of Little Rock's leading theatrical and classically trained voices. One voice that stands out in particular is that of Nisheedah Golden, a vocal powerhouse who, by the way, isn't shy when it comes to singing a perfectly crisp, vibrating note while sitting down at a buzzing coffee shop on a Wednesday night.

She hadn't planned on it, but she's been singing opera ever since her days at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, when her vocal teacher — Dr. Robert Holden, an opera singer himself — had an inkling and assigned her Donizetti's "O Mio Fernando." Golden describes her first time singing with a full orchestra as a rush she'd never felt before, one that clearly struck a chord with her — an operatic one.

Golden, a native of North Carolina, has been singing since age 5. She's traveled around plenty, but said in an interview that Arkansas is somewhat of a prime locale for budding singers to thrive, especially the youngest songsters. Golden has been teaching drama and vocal lessons for several years, mentoring blooming performers at Murrell Taylor Elementary School and Bearden Productions Performing Arts Studio.

"I love teaching what I know to kids and seeing it come to life," Golden said. "I can see in them that they really like being able to use their own ideas to bring their character to life." One of her favorite parts of the job, she says, is seeing students come to the realization that they can sing.

The gap between the live band scene and the musical theater scene in Little Rock is becoming smaller. As an example, Golden mentioned the collaboration "Divas on Tap," an offset of Opera in the Rock that features opera singers vocalizing with well-known local musicians and playing contemporary pieces intermingled with opera hits. There's never a shortage of bands to pull from for local musical theater productions, Golden said.

If she were to start a band, Golden said, she'd want a little bit of every genre in the mix, as she draws her musical inspiration from a myriad of melodies. "I love gospel. I love R&B. I love pop. I even like a few Guns N' Roses songs." Golden said her musical tastes come from her parents, who had a vast vinyl collection that she said spanned from country music to Journey.

If Golden could be said to have another full-time job, it's rehearsing. On any given week, she's in rehearsal Monday through Saturday after her teaching day ends, with a few extra practices sprinkled in depending on how the next performance is shaping up.

Catch Golden at Murry's Dinner Playhouse in the 50-year-old dinner theater's production of "Menopause: The Musical," which runs May 29-July 7, 2018, and at Pulaski Technical College's Center for the Humanities and Arts in Opera in the Rock's production of William Grant Still's "Troubled Island," Friday, May 4, and Sunday, May 6, 2018.

Deadline for the state

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Also, new LR fire chief and Springfest to continue.

Quote of the week

"I'll be working and running point on the coaching search. I've been fortunate over the last 20 years to build a network of people in the college athletics ranks and in football. I'll lean on that network as well as others I've gotten to know in my time here at Arkansas who particularly are interested in finding a coach who fits with our state and fits within our region." — Julia Cromer Peoples, interim University of Arkansas at Fayetteville athletic director, discussing the process for hiring a new Razorback football coach at a press conference Friday evening, shortly after she fired Coach Bret Bielema. Many criticized Peoples and the university for firing Bielema so quickly after a 48-45 loss to Missouri. Some male commentators, including Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Wally Hall, seemed to suggest that a woman wasn't up to the task of selecting the new coach.

Deadline for the state

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox has threatened to shut down the state's birth certificate system Jan. 5 unless the state and plaintiffs in a lawsuit work out an agreement to accommodate same-sex parents.

The state has been dragging its feet, preferring to defer to the legislature. Deference to the legislature was more or less the import of an Arkansas Supreme Court decision that followed the U.S. Supreme Court's summary finding that Arkansas discriminated against same-sex couples. Parenthood is presumed in the issuance of birth certificates to opposite-sex married copies but not to same-sex couples. The state Supreme Court said in a split decision that a circuit court could eliminate words that made the law unconstitutional, but not otherwise change or add words.

Fox, whose rulings have riled the Supreme Court before, said the Arkansas court ruling was wrong. He took the unusual route of apologizing on behalf of the state for those denied equal treatment under the law on account of the state's actions. He also urged Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to personally take part in the ongoing talks. She had said she was busy and assistants could handle it.

All this could have been avoided had the legislature fixed the law in the 2017 legislative session. But resistance continues in the legislature and the attorney general's office to extending equal treatment to LGBT people.

New Little Rock fire chief

City Manager Bruce Moore has chosen Delphone Hubbard, a 22-year veteran of the Memphis Fire Department, to be Little Rock fire chief, succeeding Gregory Summers, who retired in August.

Moore, who interviewed two finalists, said Hubbard was dedicated to fire safety and community involvement. The other finalist was Brian Dunn, fire chief in San Angelo, Texas.

Hubbard rose through the ranks, serving since 2016 as division chief. Along the way, his service included time as an emergency medical technician.

Springfest to continue

Music show economics spelled the end to Riverfest after this year's edition, but Springfest, a family event offshoot that channeled the early days of Riverfest, will continue.

The Museum of Discovery announced this week that it will sponsor the third installment of the free event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the River Market pavilions and the First Security Amphitheater.

The museum, just down the street from the River Market on President Clinton Avenue, will add some of its hands-on activities and "Awesome Science" shows to the event. Other elements include the Super Retriever Series, a dog parade, interaction with police, fire and other emergency responders, play attractions such as a giant slide and bounce houses; a construction zone; and performances by dance teams, cheerleaders and bands. Count on food trucks and vendors, too.

Packed prisons

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

It seems like a recurring problem in Arkansas is that every time the state takes one step forward on something, we take two steps back.

It seems like a recurring problem in Arkansas is that every time the state takes one step forward on something, we take two steps back. Too often any progress made toward a more healthy, educated and prosperous state is sabotaged by the powers that be. We had a moment of greatness with our bipartisan embrace of the expansion of health care to more Arkansans through the private option; now our elected officials are all too happy to end the program and watch our rural hospitals close. We were the first state in the Bible Belt to catch up with science and allow medical marijuana, only to see some legislators attempt to delay the new law and implement so many restrictions as to thwart the will of the voters. Real, long-term progress always eludes us. This same song and dance seems to hold true for criminal justice reform and the state's expanding prison population.

In 2011, it appeared we'd learned our lesson and realized the war on drugs was, at least in part, a failure. That year, the legislature passed Act 570, which lessened some of the state's tough drug laws, including ending the presumption that someone with a very small amount of cocaine or methamphetamine was a drug dealer and worthy of facing a life sentence. The act also repealed the ridiculous law that made it a felony to possess marijuana for the second time, even an amount as small as a joint. (Governor Hutchinson should issue a collective pardon for those with that second offense marijuana felony on their record, but I'm not holding my breath).

During that same 2011 session, the legislature, true to form, took a step back by changing the drug paraphernalia statute so that possessing a single plastic bag of drugs could result in a harsher punishment for the bag than the actual drugs themselves. From my experience as an attorney, I know that some prosecutors refused to charge the higher offense for the bag. However, too many didn't think twice about it, despite how silly the law seemed to anyone with any sense. It wasn't until the 2017 session that Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers) sponsored a bill fixing the wording of the law and setting things at least somewhat right.

Meanwhile, the same old story held true during the rest of the 2017 session. While a few legislators tried to enact some bipartisan reform, such as ending life sentences for juveniles and attempting to limit the driver's license suspensions that trap too many people in an endless cycle of jail and fines, others, like Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado), Reps. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville) and Kim Hammer (R-Benton), tried to create new crimes in an effort to regulate free speech and assembly. Never mind this was in direct contradiction to the GOP's principles of promoting smaller government and, you know, liberty and freedom. Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest) proposed a three-strikes-you're-out parole bill that would have been disastrous to any effort to reduce our inmate population, one that's too large because we can't seem to break the cycle of using prison in place of effective drug rehab and mental health treatment.

With the recent depressing news that Arkansas leads the nation in the percentage of children who have a parent or guardian incarcerated, the time is now to stop trying to piece together criminal justice reform here and there, or else we will end up with another generation of Arkansans locked up in overcrowded prisons. We need real, comprehensive reform starting with an overhaul of the bail bond system for pre-trial inmates. We need better services and opportunities for parolees. We need pre-K for all who want it. We need beds for those needing drug rehab and mental health treatment. The new crisis stabilization centers are a good start in ending the warehousing of mentally ill inmates in our county jails, but we still have a long way to go.

As we learned from this last legislative session, this isn't just a progressive issue. Fiscal conservatives are natural allies on reform if they can get past the impulse to punish rather than rehabilitate and abandon the tough-on-crime posturing that is red meat for much of their base. Voters seem to respond just as well or better to talk of county government saving money on jail costs. Legislators will have to go beyond relying on law enforcement and prosecutors to determine how to handle the prison crisis. To find out how to help get more people out of the criminal justice system, they must reach out and listen to those in the trenches: public defenders, social workers, mental health specialists and addiction counselors. And instead of hiding from knowledge and statistics, they should support legislation such as the racial impact study bill championed by Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) to find out if proposed laws will actually help as intended or, instead, act to further the racial disparities that absolutely exist in our justice system.

The bottom line is that we have to radically change the way we think about addiction, punishment, and rehabilitation. Small changes to existing laws and policies won't cut it. We can continue to lock people up because it makes us feel good to be tough, or we can implement real criminal justice reform and finally discover how much better it feels to be smart.

'Harvey' at Murry's

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

And much more.


7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 12:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Sun. Murry's Dinner Playhouse. $15-$37.

Murry's Dinner Playhouse has been in business for 50 years, and if that doesn't convince you that dinner theater is still alive and kicking, perhaps a performance of Mary Chase's 1944 one-hit-wonder "Harvey" will prove it. Chase, apparently introduced by an uncle to the idea of "pookas," an early precursor to that proliferator of memes the "spirit animal," penned the Pulitzer winner about a 6-foot, 3-and-one-half-inch tall invisible rabbit named Harvey who, at turns, assists, charms and bedevils our very real hero Elwood P. Dowd. Dowd, whose well-being and mental aptitude forms the core of the play's conceit, is played here by Jeff Bailey, an Arkansas actor who's appeared in big-budget flicks like "Walk the Line," "Biloxi Blues" and in Daniel Campbell and Graham Gordy's forthcoming film "Antiquities. The play, and specifically Dowd's eventual willingness to accept a medical injection that will "make him normal," is bound to touch on issues weightier than those we expect to ponder at the dinner theater: the narrowness of social normativity, the danger in deeming someone "crazy" and the nature of reality itself. Curtain is 7:30 p.m., and dinner begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday curtain times are 12:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., with dinner at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Murry's also performs special matinees on the first few Wednesdays of each new production — in this case, Dec. 6 and 13 — with a curtain time of 12:45 p.m. and dinner at 11 a.m. SS


6 p.m., Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. Ninth and Broadway. Free.

Artisans of Arkansas Made Black Crafted, whose work is available in the gift shop of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, will join fashion designers Korto Momolu of Project Runway fame; Jerald Mitchell, founder of 1297 Kustoms; and Desirene-Afrik for a fashion and craft show. Jewelry maker Phoenix will also have work at the show, and there will be clothing for purchase. Mitchell will be showing new formalwear. Light refreshments will be served; RSVP at 683-3593. Mosaic Templars is a museum of African-American history and entrepreneurship and is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. LNP


3 p.m. Downtown Little Rock. Free.

Brought to you by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, the 28th annual Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade will kick off at Broadway and Second streets. This community tradition features more than 100 entries, including marching bands, floats, cars, animals and much more. Kids will be scrambling after all the goodies thrown by participants, the best parade entry will receive a cash prize and the best high school marching band will be awarded $1,000. Be sure to follow the parade along its trek down Broadway onto Capitol Avenue, where the festivities culminate at 6 p.m. with the lighting of the state Capitol and launching of fireworks. You'll find Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudy the Reindeer leading the party, filled with music and children's activities. HS


7 p.m. The Joint Theatre & Coffeehouse. $35.

Brought to you by Paula Martin, creator and producer of the internationally syndicated "Tales from the South" radio show (which aired for 10 years on National Public Radio, the Public Radio Exchange, Stitcher and other stations, garnering multiple regional, national and international awards), "Potluck & Poison Ivy" is a new live dinner and storytelling event at The Joint, a cabaret theater and coffeehouse in North Little Rock's Argenta. Inviting folks to bring their story to the table "by sharing a meal and some good ole Southern storytelling," "Potluck and Poison Ivy" is staging its seventh show of the year: "Life and Death," featuring performances by Vic Fleming, Bill Scott and Guy Choate and music by Charlotte Taylor and Matt Stone. For just $35, you'll get the entertainment plus a dinner directed by Drue Patton, an Argenta luminary who has overseen the Argenta Friends of the Arts program and Argenta Art Walk and coordinated food and music for Arkansas Downtown Council and Argenta Arts Foundation events. Cash bar. HS


Noon-6 p.m., Good Weather, 4400 Edgemere St., NLR, Afterparty 9 p.m.-2 a.m., South on Main.

For the past five years, Haynes Riley has been hosting art shows in an unconventional space: his brother's garage in Lakewood. He's brought in dozens of artists from across the country, thanks to his connections in the art world (he's a graduate of the prestigious Cranbook Arts Academy in Bloomfield, Mich.), to the 8-foot-by-11-foot gallery; dinners with the Riley family have been part of the artists' experience. For Good Weather's final hurrah, muralist Mariel Capanna of Philadelphia will reveal the permanent fresco she's created in the garage over the past month. Capanna and Riley kicked off this last project Nov. 2 with a talk about the show, funded in part by a Foundation for Contemporary Art Emergency Grant, at the Clinton School of Public Policy. After Saturday's gallery event, a New York bar, Beverly's, is hosting a party celebrating Good Weather's five-year run from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at South on Main, 1304 Main St. An installation piece by Brooklyn artists Rose Nestler and Colin Tom and music by Judson Spillyards and the Funkanites are part of the festivities. Riley has plans to open another gallery, but nothing firm. LNP


10 p.m. Four Quarter Bar. $7.

Of all the projects to which Isaac Alexander's lent a touch — The Easys, Greers Ferry, The Boondogs, Screaming Mimes — I'll admit to a bias toward his solo records, maybe only because the crystal clear intonations on "Like a Sinking Stone" are fresh in mind, as it's the songsmith's latest. Also, let's be real: "Antivenin Suite" has a way of sticking to the aural neurotransmitters. Big Silver's "The Afterlife," though, is still locked away in memory, too, and that outfit — Alexander, Bart Angel, Brad Williams, Mike Nelson and Shelby Smith — is a dream of an ensemble, channeling Elvis Costello's raucous delivery (as on "Poison the Wishing Well") and Paul McCartney's mellifluous piano lines. Someone handed me the album on CD not long after I moved to Little Rock and, along with stumbling onto a set from Charlotte Taylor at the extant Easy Street piano bar (check out Charlotte's work in this week's cover story), it was a vital sign to me that the city had a spry, many-faceted music scene. It was unfathomable then that the guys who created and recorded melancholy diamonds like "Pass Away" and "Amazing Grace & I'll Fly Away" lived in the same town as I did. Actually, it still is. SS


Various times, museums and the Governor's Mansion.

The Historic Arkansas Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Old State House Museum and the Governor's Mansion usher in the holidays this weekend. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., HAM, 200 E. Third St., will have hot cider and ginger cake at its 50th annual Christmas Frolic, along with living history characters, blacksmith demonstrations, pioneer games and dancing. From 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Old State House Museum will have caroling and hands-on activities for children. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Mosaic Templars, 900 Broadway, will judge its sixth annual "Say It Ain't Says" Sweet Potato Pie Baking Contest for professional and amateur cooks, and visitors can sample pie and listen to holiday music by the terrific Gloryland Pastor's Choir and others; a donation of a toy for Say McIntosh's Toy Drive is welcome. The Governor's Mansion will be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and has been decorated with a Nutcracker Ballet theme. LNP


7:30 p.m. New Deal Gallery, 2003 S. Louisiana St. Donations.

Some teach, and some do. Some do both. For this concert, the instructors at the Sturgis Academy — an education branch of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra — take on two favorite viola quintets: Mozart's "String Quintet No. 4 in G Minor" and Brahms' "String Quintet No. 2 in G Major." Geoffrey Robson and Charlotte Crosmer play violin, Sturgis Academy Director Tze-Ying Wu plays viola and Ethan Young plays cello, and they are joined by violist Yoni Gertner, an accomplished chamber player with the Israel Philharmonic. SS


9 p.m. Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack. $10-$13.

A little more explosive than Veruca Salt and a little less deadpan than Courtney Barnett (but a perfect match for fans of either), Bully's Alicia Bognanno is at the center of the band's second full-length album, "Losing," in pretty much every way — psychologically, musically, mechanically. Bognanno recorded, sang, mixed and engineered the record at Chicago's Electrical Audio where she once interned under owner Steve Albini, the guy who engineered the Pixies' "Surfer Rosa" and Nirvana's "In Utero." Borrowing from that era's dead-eyed self-examination, the malaise on "Losing" gets a sonic treatment that sounds less like disenchantment and more like rage when funneled through Bognanno's howl, and there's a poetic sort of schizophrenia in play when her blistering lead vocal tracks are countered with her own, markedly sweeter, backup vocals. Smut opens the show. SS


7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Public Theater, 616 Center St. $8-$10.

The Red Octopus Theater Company, a group of volunteer writers and performers, has been regularly cranking out sketch comedy since 1991, making it one of the oldest continuously performing sketch comedy troupes in America. Its current home is the 49-seat black-box Public Theater in downtown Little Rock, where the company will perform — for the 26th year! — its noted holiday-themed sketch comedy show, "Pagans on Bobsleds." It's been around longer than some of the actors have been alive. This year's theme is "Manger Things," with publicity photos referencing the unbelievably popular Christmas-light-heavy Netflix series of similar name. With fan favorites like Santa-man, Fruitcake, Frosty, the Choirs and the Pagans on Bobsleds song, "Pagans on Bobsleds XXVI: Manger Things" will keep returning audience members rolling in the aisles while initiating new folks with fresh material from the Hip-Hop Greats, "Law & Order," and your '90s favorites. Fill a flask with some peppermint schnapps (it is BYOB, after all), and head to the Public for a night of bowl-full-of-jelly laughs. The show is recommended for adults, though, so leave the elves at home. HS


The Arkansas Repertory Theatre Annex, 518 Main St. Various times. $40.

I must say, I have always, always identified more with Ebenezer Scrooge than with Bob Cratchit. Sure, Bob's got a lovely wife and six beautiful children who love him more than the sun and the moon and the stars, but does he have to be so dag-blamed happy all the time? Even when Tiny Tim is sick and there's no food on the Christmas table? Take it from Scrooge, life isn't all lollipops and rainbows. And Christmas, especially, is a most satisfying time of the year to let your inner curmudgeon loose on the world. You won't believe how appalled all the shoppers at Walmart will be. Apparently, award-winning American author and humorist David Sedaris shares some of my nihilistic sentiments. He was first recognized in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcast him reading "Santaland Diaries," a humorous account of his stint working as a Christmas elf at Macy's "Santaland." Four years later, the essay was adapted for the stage as a one-man, one-act play, featuring Crumpet, a foul-mouthed department store Christmas elf who chain smokes, drinks martinis and, well, denies the existence of Santa. Now The Rep brings this ingenious adaptation to its Black Box Theatre for your viewing pleasure. If you enjoy a bit of schadenfreude during the holidays, please give me a call, and we'll go see this hilarious show. HS

GOP contempt

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Sometimes it's hard to be cynical enough about the current course of American politics. Astonishing, yet not at all surprising. That was my immediate reaction to the news — largely ignored by national print and broadcast media — that the Trump administration refused to ask Congress for one thin dime of disaster funding in the wake of Northern California's devastating wildfires.

Sometimes it's hard to be cynical enough about the current course of American politics. Astonishing, yet not at all surprising. That was my immediate reaction to the news — largely ignored by national print and broadcast media — that the Trump administration refused to ask Congress for one thin dime of disaster funding in the wake of Northern California's devastating wildfires. The state had requested $7.4 billion, modest under the circumstances.

The drought- and wind-driven fires — every bit as much a natural cataclysm as a hurricane or a tornado — killed 43 Californians and destroyed almost 9,000 homes and commercial buildings. Vast stretches of the beautiful city of Santa Rosa looked as if it they been carpet-bombed. Many thousands of your fellow Americans were rendered homeless and destitute.

Yet that evidently didn't qualify as a disaster to Donald J. Trump, who couldn't even be bothered to show up on the West Coast to throw paper towels around, as he'd done in Puerto Rico. And why? Mother Jones' invaluable Kevin Drum thinks he knows: California's governor, Jerry Brown, and its two U.S. senators are Democrats, like 39 of its 53 congressmen.

And Democrats need not apply.

"Occam's Razor," Drum writes, "suggests that the best guess is the most obvious one: California is a Democratic state that didn't vote for Donald Trump. You don't mess with the family."

Indeed, Californians voted against Trump almost two to one. Sonoma County, whose county seat is Santa Rosa, gave Trump a mere 22 percent of its vote. So let them live in tents and shovel their own ashes. They're dead to this White House — apparently unworthy of help in Trump's America.

Texas, Florida and even wave-tossed Puerto Rico, whose politicians basically shamed Trump into a grudging, lukewarm response to its humanitarian crisis, will share what local leaders call an inadequate relief package in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. (Sen. Bernie Sanders [I-Vermont] has proposed a $146 billion aid bill for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but absent GOP support its chances would appear slim to none.)

Either way, Californians are on their own.

Even more remarkable, Drum thinks, is that with a single exception — Rep. Ed Royce of Orange County — "California's Republican delegation boycotted a request for disaster funding for their own state."

They haven't simply chosen party over country, like GOP partisans determinedly ignoring the mountain of evidence documenting the Trump campaign's entanglement with Kremlin operatives during the 2016 election. They have chosen party over their own friends and neighbors.

Because, like altogether too many Trump supporters, they don't consider fire victims as friends, neighbors or fellow Californians.

Instead, they're Democrats, and as such avowed enemies.

Partisanship is nothing new in American politics, of course, but GOP hostility toward their Democratic rivals took a hard turn after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Lacking a foreign enemy to demonize, the party's evangelical right wing selected the Clintons as Public Enemies No. 1 and No. 2.

I once got a chance to ask the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, of "Clinton Chronicles" fame — a lurid video charging President Clinton with drug-smuggling and murder — If the Biblical commandment against false witness was more or less important than the one forbidding adultery. Somewhat to his credit, he said they were equally significant, although he pretended not to know why I was asking.

And then came Fox News.

Silly me, I recall being flabbergasted when delegates to the 2004 Republican convention wore Band-Aids mocking Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War wounds. Three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for heroism in combat weren't enough to persuade these zealots of the Democratic presidential candidate's patriotism.

Surely, I imagined, such mockery would backfire.

It turned out that I had underestimated how far around the bend the Foxified GOP had gone. However, it's one thing to turn partisan zeal against symbolic figures like presidential candidates, quite another to punish one's fellow citizens. Short term, Trump will seemingly pay no price. What remains to be seen, however, is what price blue state Republicans will pay.

Less melodramatic, but perhaps more politically consequential is the way the current GOP "tax cut" bill takes direct aim at taxpayers in anti-Trump states. Just two of its provisions — sharply limiting the home mortgage interest deduction and eliminating the federal deduction of state and local income and property taxes — would not only stick taxpayers in California and the urban Northeast with sharply higher income taxes, but could destabilize real estate markets.

Up go your income taxes, down goes the value of your home. All this to shovel countless billions to corporations and tycoons like Donald J. Trump and his hardworking family of grifters, who like really need the cash. Republican politicians in suburban swing districts will be left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, partisan Democrats don't yet reciprocate GOP contempt. But they are definitely working on it.

Good anger

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Recently, I attended a training session with the Little Rock Organizing Committee, an alliance of churches, schools, unions and other organizations concerned with social justice. The three-day workshop was essentially a crash course in community organizing. There were multiple lessons, but the biggest benefit to me was learning that anger is not always bad.

Recently, I attended a training session with the Little Rock Organizing Committee, an alliance of churches, schools, unions and other organizations concerned with social justice. The three-day workshop was essentially a crash course in community organizing. There were multiple lessons, but the biggest benefit to me was learning that anger is not always bad.

For years I have said, "I don't get mad." I used the same logic as President Bill Clinton's uncle, who Clinton once said told him, "If someone makes you angry, then they are trying to prevent you from thinking." On those same logical lines, I believed that anger was a useless emotion. I was misinformed. The training session taught me that societal anger could be productive. It is productive when we understand that anger can motivate us to act to bring about sustained and systematic change in our community.

After attending the workshop, I thought about the societal issues that anger me. Two immediately came to mind: public education and guns.

I'm a proud Little Rock McClellan High School alum, and I will say it every chance I get. Recently, the suspension of an assistant principal has been reported in local news and social media. In addition, charter school advocates, particularly Arkansas Learns, continue to belittle McClellan with the hopes of adding steam to the charter school train. I'm not buying it; you shouldn't either.

McClellan was exactly what I needed to become who I am today. Despite challenges, McClellan is still providing educational and extracurricular opportunities for kids who look like me. McClellan is the only school in the Little Rock School District to host a college fair for historically black colleges and universities. McClellan is home to the only LRSD team to make it to the high school football playoffs and will play in the state championship game Dec. 2. In addition, there are a number of alumni who are invested in McClellan and the students it serves. In October, there was Lion Pride cleanup day. In 2018, the Friends and Alumni of McClellan will kick off its annual scholarship drive for graduates of McClellan (and the new high school when it opens). It should anger us when only the negative stories and statistics are shared and tweeted. Our anger is not necessarily bad, if we can use it to motivate us to promote and support the good news about our public schools.

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Hutchinson tweeted a picture of himself holding a gun with the statement "As Arkansas's Governor, I have and will protect EVERY part of the Second Amendment!" My immediate reaction: I do not understand the fascination with guns. Then I thought, is the Second Amendment unprotected? I also began to reflect on how I used to subscribe to and perpetuate the gun reality. Years ago, I started law school with the sole desire to obtain a degree to legitimize myself, so I could be the first black statewide elected official in the state of Arkansas. With that in mind, after I started my law practice, I wanted my partners to invite me to go hunting. I planned to become a serviceable hunter because I envisioned being pictured in a campaign ad in a camouflage jacket with a rifle similar to the one tweeted by Hutchinson. I truly felt that was an essential part of the political process. Despite knowing that my life experiences were vastly different than most Arkansas politicians, I still accepted this political reality. I thought that as a black man I needed to make myself "relatable" to white people who are gun advocates. Ten years later, I'm more concerned about our politicians toting guns and manufacturing a fabricated "assault" on gun rights in campaign ads. Apparently, Hutchinson's tweet went unnoticed because it is just the way "we do things." However, I'm no longer buying the standard narrative and you shouldn't either. Our society should be angered by the singular focus on gun rights. We should use our anger to motivate us to inform Hutchinson to protect all of our rights and work to improve areas like education and health care.

To paraphrase the famous philosopher David Hume*, "reason is a slave to passion." Our passions influence what we believe is reasonable. I'm hopeful that our individual passions develop into societal anger that motivates all of us to change the conversation about public education and guns.

Antwan Phillips is a lawyer with the Wright Lindsey Jennings firm.

*A previous version of this column mistakenly attributed a quote to Thomas Hume, rather than David Hume.

Horseshoe Bend

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

On the Buffalo National River, from Brian Cormack of the Arkansas Times' Flickr group. HORSESHOE BEND: On the Buffalo National River, from Brian Cormack of the Arkansas Times' Flickr group.

Ian Moore comes to Four Quarter

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Also, Stephen Neeper plays Midtown.


Ian Moore takes tunes from his long career and standout new EP "Strange Days" to Four Quarter Bar, 9 p.m., $10-$12. Chicago-born comedian Alvin Williams goes for laughs at The Loony Bin, 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $8-$12. Ten Penny Gypsy plays tunes from its self-titled debut album at The Big Chill in Hot Springs, with Buddy Case, 8 p.m. Folk-grass quartet Turtle Rush performs at Maxine's in Hot Springs, 9 p.m., free. Public radio listeners: Visit with station staff and board members at the annual meeting and holiday party for KUAR-FM, 89.1, and KLRE-FM, 90.5, 5:30 p.m., Curran Hall, free. Chris DeClerk plays a solo acoustic set at Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack, 7 p.m., free. "Butterfly" Katrice Newbill takes the stage at Cajun's Wharf, 9 p.m., $5.


Stephen Neeper & The Wild Hearts play a late-night set at Midtown Billiards to cap off the annual Holiday Hangout festival, 1 a.m. The Arkansas Choral Society will perform portions of George Frideric Handel's oratorio "Messiah," 7:30 p.m., Calvary Baptist Church, 5700 Cantrell Road, $20. If you're in the Spa City, catch Cosmocean at Maxine's, 8 p.m., $5. The Karla Case Band performs at Thirst N' Howl Bar & Grill, 8:30 p.m., $5. The Studio Theatre takes on a staged version of the MGM classic "Meet Me in St. Louis," through Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m., $20-$25, see for details. Psychedelic Velocity plays a free show at Markham Street Grill and Pub, 8:30 p.m. Some Guy Named Robb plays a happy hour set at Cajun's, 5:30 p.m., free, and later, the Memphis Yahoos take the stage, 9 p.m., $5. Fret & Worry takes its harmonica-guitar duets to EJ's Eats & Drinks for happy hour, 6 p.m. The Weekend Theater opens its production of John Cariani's "Almost, Maine," through Dec. 16, see for details. Greasy Tree plays a set in Conway at Kings Live Music, with opener Stuart Thomas, 8:30 p.m., $5. Elsewhere in Conway, Joey Fanstar takes the stage at TC's Midtown Grill, 9 p.m. Black River Pearl puts garage rock onto the cozy stage at Four Quarter Bar, 10 p.m., $7.


Doom Room Comedy Night features stand-up sets from Brandon Davidson, Tyler Edwards, Seth Dees and Mark Johnson, 8 p.m. Blues-rock guitar great Joe Bonamassa takes the stage at Verizon Arena, 8 p.m., $79-$149. Acclaimed Nashville songwriter David Olney performs at Hibernia Irish Tavern, 7:30 p.m., $8-$15. Orange Star High plays a set at TC's Midtown Grill, 9 p.m. The Ghost Town Blues Band fires up a riverside performance at Cajun's, 9 p.m. Strange Brue plays a set or two at Thirst N' Howl, 8:30 p.m. Arkansas Chamber Singers host A Swingin' Christmas Fundraiser at The Little Rock Club, 400 W. Capitol Ave., with music from The B-Flats, 5:30 p.m., $125. The Stolen Faces pay homage to The Grateful Dead at Stickyz, 9 p.m., $10. Vaudeville rocker Randall Shreve performs at Revolution, 9 p.m., $6. Guitarist Tim Easton, Joey Kneiser (of Glossary), Salty Dogs frontman Brad Williams and country siren Bonnie Montgomery perform an afternoon set as part of the annual Holiday Hangout festivities, Lost Forty Brewing, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Adam Faucett & The Tall Grass take the stage at Maxine's, with William Blackart and Brandon Luedtke, 9 p.m., $7.


Newsboys and Sidewalk Prophets are among the acts lined up for Big Church Night Out at Verizon Arena, 6 p.m., $28. Breakfast, Books & Booze opens at noon at the White Water Tavern, featuring independent literature from the Tree of Knowledge, free, and at 5 p.m., a $5 cover will get you into Holiday Hangout performances from Dazz & Brie, Brent Best (of Slobberbone), J.D. Wilkes (of The Legendary Shack Shakers) and more. British vocal ensemble Voces8 gives a performance at Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, 7 p.m., $10. The North Little Rock Christmas Parade begins at Main Street and Pershing Blvd. at 2 p.m. and proceeds through Argenta, free.


Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected a head of state in Africa, joins President Bill Clinton for a lecture and conversation, 5:30 p.m., Statehouse Convention Center, free, reserve seats by emailing or calling 501-683-5239.


Left Behind, Orthodox, Mercy Blow, A Fate Foretold and The Lucid Archetype play an early, heavy show at Vino's, 7 p.m., $10-$12.


South African alt-metal band Seether performs at the Clear Channel Metroplex, 8 p.m., $30-$295. The Rev Room kicks off the second round of its Best Christmas Song Karaoke Contest, 8 p.m.

Loving lots at Leverett Lounge

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:00 PM PST

Thanks to the brains at Maxine's Tap Room.

Successfully changing a concept has to be one of the more impressive feats in the already challenging restaurant business. If a recent visit to the newly opened Leverett Lounge in Fayetteville is any indication, then Hannah Withers and Ben Gitchel  — also operators of the venerable Maxine's Tap Room — are doing just that. Earlier this year, they opened Sit & Spin, which served donuts, sliders and fries, and was joined to a revamped laundromat of the same name. We went there a handful of times and thought the tiny burgers, donuts and crispy fries were top-notch. But when it became clear that the concept wasn't panning out as planned, Withers and Gitchel decided to shift gears dramatically.

Leverett Lounge straddles the line between upscale restaurant and comfy neighborhood joint where you can drop in for a quality meal without dropping a $100 bill. The small plates, desserts and appetizers range from $4-$14. Head chef Gitchel, a native of Little Rock, trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York (now called the International Culinary Center). The menu reflects both highbrow classic French cuisine and down-home Arkansas cooking.

Exhibit A of the latter would be Mel's Diner ($7), one of the appetizers we tried. While grits have moved beyond their humble origins and are now featured on menus all over non-flyover country, we would be surprised if anyone has elevated them beyond Gitchel's take, based on a recipe his grandmother used for leftover grits. Two thick slices of garlic cheese grits are fried and served with a drizzle of remoulade. We'd heard raves about the dish and are happy to say it more than lived up to the hype. The fried hominy wedges were crispy on the outside, perfectly smooth and piping hot on the inside. If they served these up by the half-dozen in a paper-lined basket, we would've ordered them and wolfed them down.

The other appetizer we chose was the Bravissimo ($9), bacon-wrapped pork roulettes served in Shakshuka sauce, with feta and cilantro. The pork nuggets were tender and juicy, and the sauce — a tomato- and pepper-based concoction of North African origin — was a delicious, outside-the-box pairing. Shakshuka is typically served with eggs and vegetables and is a breakfast staple across the Middle East, but it worked well with the pork, adding a bright, fresh dimension to the dish.

For entrees, we opted for the Tournedos au Poivre ($14) and seared cod ($12). The former consists of beef tenderloin medallions in a green peppercorn sauce, with a side of grilled asparagus. The tenderloins were crusty on the outside and rare to medium-rare on the inside, though the kitchen will cook them longer if you ask. The peppercorn sauce was a nice complement to the beef.

The seared cod was exceptional. It was served bathed in an intoxicating herbed butter (rich without overpowering the flavor of the fish) and sprinkled with fried crouton bits that soaked up the butter while retaining their crunch. If there was a complaint with this dish, it's only that the piece of fish could have been a bit larger. Still, for the price, it was hard to beat.

The ambience inside was cozy and intimate, but not cramped. Our service was impeccable. The food came out promptly and our glasses were never empty. The music was low-key and lovely (Charles Bradley's soulful R&B was a perfect soundtrack). As part of the revamping, Withers and Gitchel added a patio area, which will be a draw in better weather.

The neighborhood has changed in the last couple of years: Gone are the 800-square-foot, low-rent cottages and empty lots, replaced by (relatively) towering brand-new townhouses and condos. Foot traffic in the area should increase, and with another dining or drinking addition, this stretch of Leverett Avenue could become a destination, away from the bustle of Dickson Street and the roar of College Avenue. Here's hoping that Leverett Lounge becomes one of the anchors for the area. We'll be back for sure.

Leverett Lounge
737 N. Leverett Ave.

Quick bite

Leverett Lounge has a small-plate menu, but also one titled "Noshes," great for a quick bite. This list features the Mel's Diner grits mentioned in the review as well as several other dressed-up classic appetizers, including Fancy Hank (handmade jalapeno tater tots with creme fraiche, $8) and Richard's Coconut Beer Battered Shrimp (hand-battered shrimp with orange marmalade sauce, $9).


5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Other info

CC accepted. Beer and wine.