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My life long love affair with West Side Story - and no, I really don’t care if Natalie Wood didn’t do her own singing

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 09:31 AM PDT

Just imagine, if you dare, a roomful of seventh-grade boys, singing "Maria" from mimeographed sheets of paper. Such was my first introduction to West Side Story, inspiring a love which has lasted a lifetime.

A lot of kids didn't like music class, or any class in which honoring and exploring various forms of creativity was the raison d'être, I suppose.

Their loss.

But back to the Sharks and the Jets. West Side Story is the perfect movie musical for a young man who is, as they say, coming of age. It's about love, hate, bigotry, peer pressure and how the heavy hand of blind authority can sometimes make a situation worse than it needs to be.

As I say, I discovered West Side Story through those mimeographed sheets of the lyrics, which I took home and sang to our long-suffering dogs - something I have continued to do with several generations of dogs throughout the years.

A few years later, in high school, I read the screenplay in a paperback, and then, not long after, I was able to see the movie when it was released to theaters again in the early 1970s.

I was held fast in my seat from the very start. This movie spoke to me in a way that nothing else ever had before, and possibly since.

It has long been my belief, even though I can't dance worth a damn - a fact which has frustrated more than one woman in my life - that life should be a musical, and that if life were fair and just, we'd be able to break into song and dance at a moment's notice.

Obviously, we young tadpoles in junior high school were only given the love songs to learn; "Gee, Officer Krupke" was not offered to us. Well, we were probably too young to appreciate it, and, going to school on a military base in the 60s, well, authority was not a thing to be mocked.

If you haven't seen West Side Story for a while, why not pop a copy into your old Betamax and let it wash over you. And if you haven't seen it, well, I hope you might be inspired to check it out.

And yeah, it's the perfect musical for young people, no matter what age they may be.


Today's Soundtrack

Really? You have to ask?


Now on YouTube: Dotty Oliver

Some yeas ago it was my great privilege to write for the late Dotty Oliver of the Little Rock Free Press. Finally we had a chance to sit down in front of some cameras and talk about the FREEP and Arkansas politics in general, including the time that she was sued by Mike Huckabee.

Dotty Oliver: Little Rock Free Press Memories



Quote of the Day

Human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. - Howard Zinn


Arkansas Advocates poll finds strong support for pre-k and earned income tax credit

Posted: 21 Apr 2018 07:12 AM PDT

A new poll this released this week by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families found strong public support in the state for public investments in education and health care and targeted tax relief for low-income Arkansans:

* More than three out of four (79%) Arkansans – including 79% of independents and 72% of Republicans – support enacting a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax cut targeted to low- and moderate-income working people.

* Three out of four (76%) want Arkansas to invest in afterschool and summer programs across the state.

* About two out of three (67%) Arkansans support increasing state funding for pre-kindergarten.

* About two out of three (65%) Arkansans oppose cuts to Medicaid funding.

* When asked which is better for the state, Arkansans strongly prefer investing in programs that benefit many (51%) over cutting taxes for wealthier families (33%).
Here's the breakdown of the statewide poll of registered voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

I suspect you would wind up with different results if you polled the Arkansas General Assembly.

Former Hutchinson staffer Vu Ritchie moving from federal CMS to Tom Cotton's office

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 06:33 PM PDT

Andrew "Vu" Ritchie is departing his job as senior counselor at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to take a position as counsel in Sen. Tom Cotton's office, Cotton's spokesperson Caroline Tabler confirmed.

Prior to moving to D.C. to take the CMS position last summer, Ritchie, an Arkansas native, had worked for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, first as deputy legal counsel and then as a senior policy advisor, working on agriculture, energy, environment and transportation. He also served as the regulatory attorney.

Attorney general again rejects David Couch's proposed ballot initiative to alter redistricting process

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 05:23 PM PDT

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today rejected a proposed ballot initiative brought by David Couch to enact changes to the process by which the state redraws congressional and state legislative districts. It was the second time that Rutledge has rejected the proposal.

Redistricting occurs every ten years, along with the U.S. Census. It's an important issue: Partisan gerrymandering (yes, both sides do it when they're in power) can lead to funky-shaped districts in Arkansas and elsewhere that seem counter to the spirit of a representative democracy. Couch — the Little Rock attorney who has campaigned for more than 20 ballot initiatives and authored the medical marijuana amendment that voters passed in 2016 — is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would establish a "Citizens' Redistricting Commission" consisting of seven members. The members of the commission would be chosen by the Majority and Minority Leaders in the House of Representatives and the Majority and Minority Leaders in the Senate, each choosing one member.

Those commission members would then choose three additional members by majority vote. None of these three additional members could have any political party affiliation, as determined by their voter registration.

This might produce a more fair system, but it would reduce the power currently held by the Republican officeholders set to have total control of redistricting under current law, including Rutledge herself. Under current law, the "Board of Apportionment" — consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general — draw the maps for the 100 House districts and 35 Senate districts. The General Assembly redraws the maps for the state's four Congressional districts.

In her opinion issued today, Rutledge complained of ambiguities in the text, which is par for the course when the attorney general rejects ballot titles. As a sample: She stated that because the proposal "represents a substantial change to longstanding Arkansas constitutional law by repealing Article 8 to the constitution," said repeal should be noted higher in the text; she said that the provision barring someone from serving as a commissioner is an immediate family member had served in various appointed or elected offices in the last five years failed to define what an "immediate family member" was; failed to define terms such as "geographic or political units" and "jurisdictions" that she said would not be readily understood by voters; and half a dozen other nits she located to pick.

Couch expressed frustration that all of the language that Rutledge said needed to be revised this time was in the previous draft that he submitted and drew no comment at that time. Rutledge had suggested other changes on the initial draft, which Couch made (changes which drew no comment this time). This is, shall we say, an inefficient manner for the attorney general's office to go about dispensing guidance. In Couch's view, it amounts to foot-dragging.

"She came up with a whole bunch of new stuff that was in the first one the first time we submitted it," Couch said. "No we have to re-submit and she'll take another ten business days."

To proceed, the ballot measure first needs to be certified by the attorney general. At that point, the amendment would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.

A protracted back-and-forth to win approval from the attorney general for ballot measures has been typical. The slightly absurd dance happens with most proposals — this year, Rutledge has rejected more than 50 proposed ballot titles and not accepted a single one. The situation led Driving Arkansas Forward, a group pushing an amendment to allow two casinos, in Jefferson County and Pope County, to file a 167-page lawsuit against Rutledge with the state Supreme Court earlier this week, after Rutledge rejected the group's proposal a fourth time (Rutledge filed her response today). "We are concerned that the Attorney General is applying an unnecessarily burdensome standard in this review," a spokesman for the group said.

As for Couch's redistricting proposal, Rutledge might be especially motivated to obstruct, obfuscate, and drag her feet. If enacted, Couch's proposed amendment would take away a power currently designated to Rutledge herself, as a member of the Board of Apportionment. More broadly, it would give a voice to the minority party. In 2020, that would mean giving Democrats and nonpartisan actors a seat at the table, as opposed to total control by Republicans. Perhaps Rutledge is sour on that idea.

The attorney general is ostensibly supposed to be neutral on the content of the proposal itself in these opinions, but Rutledge's commentary does seem to reflect her own "view of the merits of a particular proposal," her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. From her opinion:

As a final note, I believe a cautionary note is warranted in light of the significance of the subject matter undertaken-apportionment and redistricting-and the complexity and far-reaching effects of your proposal. I have to question whether the Court would view your measure as one that the voters could readily understand so as to be able to make a considered and informed choice in the voting booth. 
"It bothers me that in some of her comments she doesn't think the electorate of the state of Arkansas is smart enough to figure out redistricting," Couch said.

As to whether Rutledge might be particularly motivated to put the brakes on this proposal, Couch said, "It's hard to comment on anybody's motives. But some of her comments in the letter would lead a reasonable person to believe that some of the objections are content-based."

Couch said that he would re-submit a revised proposal on Monday. "I'll keep at it until I get it or until she tells me I can't get it — and then I'll ask the federal court to see if that's constitutional. You can't use this statute as a pretext to stymie or block someone's constitutional right to petition."

The Friday 4/20 open line

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:19 PM PDT

Video rots the brain, we've concluded. It's text only from here on out.

Kidding. The daily video news roundups should resume next week.

In the meantime, talk among yourselves, have a fine weekend and steer clear of Caesar salads for the foreseeable future.

The Wendell Griffen News Cycle Edition

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:05 PM PDT

Embattled Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, a group of UA Little Rock students repeatedly shouting the n-word while singing along to a popular song, the federal corruption trial of former Sen. Jon Woods and more — covered on this week's podcast.

Subscribe via iTunes.

No Small Talk, Ep. 14: Jasmine Blunt of "The Influence"

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 02:42 PM PDT

This week, we talk with Jasmine Blunt about her work on The Influence, touch base on a few pieces of news and festival lineups in the area and make some recommendations for the next couple of weekends in the Central Arkansas area.

First (1:25), a little arts and entertainment news:

The Rev Room is still going strong with shows from Hurray for the Riff Raff and Waxahatchee, Big Dam Horns, Keller Williams and Amasa Hines coming up, as well as a benefit for the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance this Sunday at 2 p.m., but the venue will close the restaurant portion of its business to make room for a new buyer. Sorry, taco lovers.

Heads up, nerds! Spa-Con, to take place Sept. 21-23 in downtown Hot Springs, announced the first of its special guests: Sean Maher, Arvell Jones and Nightengale Vixon. Stay tunes for more announcements from them.

The very first King Biscuit Blues Festival without Sonny Payne (1926-2018), longtime host of "King Biscuit Time" radio, announced its lineup, too. That's Oct. 3-6 on Cherry Street in downtown Helena, Arkansas.

The acclaimed and elaborate touring Broadway production of "The Lion King," designed by Julie Taymor (the same mastermind behind one of Omaya's favorite Shakespeare adaptations, "Titus"), opens this week at Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Also, the traveling Czech That Film Festival lands in Little Rock April 27-28, in partnership with the Arkansas Cinema Society.

Finally, we got word of a nonprofit working to revitalize public basketball courts as social hubs, The Blacktop Project. There's a Northwest Arkansas chapter soliciting designs for a court at Walker Park in Fayetteville. Neat!

Next (16:54), we talk with Jasmine Blunt of The Influence radio, a self-described "full-service media company specializing in radio, events, and brand management for the aspiring artist, entrepreneur, and creative. Through innovative ideas, collaborative works, and supportive efforts; We strive to be a platform for the Arkansas creative youth and an outlet to ensure their craft, ideas, and dreams are no longer unnoticed."

Download The Influence Radio app on iTunes or your Android platform. It's all Arkansas-connected music, 24/7, and there's even a "song history" tab so you can see what you missed and chase those artists' music elsewhere.

Blunt talks about how she got started, what artistic and communication needs she was responding to when she and her team created The Influence, and we put her on the spot to name a few favorite artists.

Here's a sampling of a few [NSFW, depending on where you W] songs from Arkansas artists they played while we were writing this blog post:

At (27:49), Omaya gives a glimpse of the screenings coming up May 1-6 at the Bentonville Film Festival, our sponsor for this podcast.

Finally, at (28:33), we make some recommendations:

Omaya fills us in on the Oxford American's "50 Years of True Grit" lineup this weekend, including screenings of both the 1969 and the 2010 film versions, as well as concerts, a variety show, lectures and a sweet afterparty at the White Water Tavern with Wussy and The Paranoid Style. 

Stephanie recommends you get tickets to hear poets Molly McCully Brown and Seth Pennington with musician John Burnette at Potluck and Poison Ivy next Thursday, April 26.

Jasmine recommends the "all Arkansas, all dopeness" on The Influence Radio app, available on iTunes and Android platforms.

And (31:36) The Move for the week: catch drag artist, LGBTQ advocate and cannabis activist Laganga Estranga at Club Sway this weekend. She does a killer "death drop" and a song called "Hot Box," and she's here to celebrate 4/20 weekend with the Club Sway contingent, hosted by the stars of the club's Fresh Fish All Stars competition.