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Joan Hess lays down her pen

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 10:30 AM PST

I'm pretty sure I annoyed Fayetteville mystery novelist Joan Hess, who has just died in Texas, when I referred to Agatha Christie mysteries as "Murder in the Chamberpot stories" when she appeared on my show back in 1992.

This morning, reading her obituary, I wished I had thought to let her know of my renewed enjoyment in the old Christie novels.

My connections with Ms. Hess were tenuous, at best, though interesting, in a sort of unique Fayetteville way.

The only time I actually had a face-to-face encounter with Ms. Hess was the night she appeared on my show, which still stands out among one of my favorites. Soon we shall have it online for others to enjoy.

She was a fun, engaging, guest, and apart from my snarky joke about Agatha Christie, it went well. It surprised me that she didn't seem to care for Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, or at least his most recent novels.

The first time I ran for public office (and was roundly trounced for my efforts) the man I was seeking to unseat was her ex-husband.

Yeah, that's kind of boring, isn't it? We'll just leave that well enough alone.

But this is my favorite Joan Hess encounter; it is also one she retells on our interview together.

In the 1980s a woman I was living with suggested that I contact her for some writing advice - because, you know, writers just LOVE strangers writing to them begging them to lay their work aside and answer their little questions. She wrote me a very gracious letter back, not offering writing advice as such, but telling me about a writer's group in Fayetteville.

Lacking confidence, I never went to any of their meetings.

But out of that letter does indeed come about my favorite Joan Hess story.

Some time after our exchange she was casting about for a name for a villain, and she hit upon the name "Richard Drake" - not realizing until she was further into her book just where in the flotsam and jetsam of her memory that name had come from.

Figuring that the real Richard Drake might not like being a villain, she changed it. Robert Drake, if I recall. She was wrong, though, I'd have loved being a murderer in one of her books.

Ah well, there's still time for me in real life, I suppose . . .

Sitting next to my keyboard is a paperback copy of her novel, "Dear Miss Demeanor," which she signed for me the night of our show.

Over the title she drew a smiling picture of herself, and followed with:

"To Richard - Thanks for a great time on the tube!"

No, thank you, Joan Hess. Not just for your writing, but for being part of what has made Fayetteville what it means for so many people over the years.

A city isn't buildings, parks, factories or walking trails, but our common humanity, and, well, you know the rest, kids.


Today's Soundtrack

Reminiscing today along with Dan Fogelberg's "Wishing on the Moon" album.


From the No, This Is Really True Department

The other night I dreamt I was walking through a deserted metropolis, and the only sign of life came from giant TV screens on every street.

DONALD TRUMP was on each and every one, going through his Bully-in-the-Bar stream of consciousness routine that he does at rallies.

But there was no applause or the roar of the crowd - just a silent, empty city, and Donald Trump yelling at . . . nobody.


Quote of the Day

It is often wonderful how putting down on paper a clear statement of a case helps one to see, not perhaps the way out, but the way in. - A.C. Benson


How much is Gus Malzahn worth to Arkansas?

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 09:24 AM PST

The University of Arkansas has no athletic director as yet but this hasn't slowed speculation that the UA is in serious pursuit of Arkansas native Gus Malzahn, a loser yesterday as head coach at Auburn in the SEC championship, to succeed Bret Bielema.

Again, I have no idea what the welter of confidential "sources" might be worth in this article. But gaining currency lately is a supposed willingness of Arkansas to pay Malzahn $50 million over seven years. No details on buyouts, guarantees or dealing with Malzahn's obligations to Auburn through 2020.

It might be — might be — despite the seeming popular support for Malzahn that the football search group is looking elsewhere. Maybe they're also considering an up and comer at say Memphis or SMU who could be gotten for a paltry $2 or $3 million a year.

I'm comfortable saying this: Nobody should be paid $7 million a year to supervise game-playing by college boys (and, who knows, maybe even a girl someday like that state champion placekicker from North Little Rock). But I also understand that debate is over for now. Uncompensated athletes as cash cows, academic fraud, the NCAA monopoly, cable TV cord cutting, permanent brain damage — these are issues that someday might force a re-evaluation of priorities and spending at nominal education institutions. But not on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.

I'll let you know when I learn the size of the latest jackpot.

Feds wavering on Medicaid waivers for Arkansas? Asa remains confident.

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 06:24 AM PST

David Ramsey reports for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's recent journey to Washington to see what's up with federal consideration of his ideas to impose additional restrictions on Medicaid eligibility as a way to save the state money.

Arkansas began work in June on getting approval for changing the income level at which people can qualify for Medicaid coverage and also adding a work requirement. Still no answer and the plan to start the changes Jan. 1 is now out of the question.  The governor remains optimistic.

"The timeline for the response to the waiver may be delayed because of the resignation of former [federal Health and Human Services] Secretary Price and the fact that the new Secretary has not yet been confirmed by the Senate," Hutchinson wrote by email. "While the final waiver decision has not yet been made, I am confident that we are on the right track and that the reforms under Arkansas Works will continue."

It seems there's some concern, particularly, about lowering the eligibility determination from 138 to 100 percent of poverty. This will throw thousands off the program. They'll still be eligible for federal subsidies in the marketplace, though whether those subsidies will be sufficient to make insurance affordable is a large question. Other political considerations also complicate a Trump administration decision on the eligibility level, Ramsey writes.

An additional complication lurks: A legal challenge to a change in income eligibility by people previously covered. There's an argument that the eligibility level is a matter of law and can't be waived.

Down the line, a failure of Arkansas to get the waivers would have some state budget implications in a loss of anticipated savings. Congressional efforts to end the insurance mandate under Obamacare also hold enormous implications for the entire program.

2nd Amendment defenders at work

Posted: 03 Dec 2017 06:01 AM PST

So this New York Times report indicates the Kremlin worked to use NRA ties to seek to build a relationship with Donald Trump.

Russia-NRA-Trump. A murderers row, you might say (metaphorically, of course).

Saturday's open line: Plus, the Malzahn watch and embezzlement news of note

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 02:26 PM PST

Here's the Saturday open line. A couple of things:

* GUS BUS: Many eyes are on Atlanta, where Auburn currently trails Georgia in the SEC championship game and all the jock talkers seem to think the potential is high that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will jet home to coach the Hogs after the game, particularly if he loses.

I have not a clue.

But, for your amusement, I share at the top what former Hog quarterback Mitch Mustain had to say. If you don't know the tortured tale of Mustain, his high school coach Malzahn and cell phone addict Houston Nutt, well, go watch an Ivy League game or something.

And speaking of amusement: The prospect of Malzahn's return prompted one faithful reader to note that would also mean the return of his wife Kristi. She's been quiet since an interview with megapastor Ronnie Floyd went viral in 2011, but perhaps familiar surroundings might lure her back to a microphone. She had a lot to say.

* FAMILIAR NAME: Story out of Missouri about the suicide in Springfield of a CPA who'd pleaded guilty to embezzling from an organization on whose board he served, managed mergers and did internal auditing. He also failed to report the money for tax purposes. It's worth a mention only because the dead man, David Carl Hayes, stole from Alternative Opportunities, a nonprofit that operated mental and behavioral health agencies, including dozens of clinics in Arkansas. Alternative Opportunities also employed a lobbyist who's been identified, but not charged,  as participating in a kickback scheme with former state senator Jon Woods, who's facing trial in Fayetteville. Alternative Opportunities has not been charged either and its related entities have all disavowed connection with any ill deeds.  But it appears it may have employed more than one bad apple.