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Wilkins pleads

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Also, Rapert's rock, voter ID law blocked and more.

Quote of the week

"The sole reason that we donated this monument to the state of Arkansas is because the Ten Commandments are an important component to the foundation of the laws and the legal system of the United States of America and of the state of Arkansas." — Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) at the dedication ceremony for the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds. Rapert sponsored the legislation that authorized the monument and co-founded the nonprofit that raised the money to pay for it. The first version of the monument was installed last June but was destroyed within 24 hours when a man, apparently mentally ill, rammed it with a car. This second version is protected from vehicular assault by concrete bollards; Rapert's words were intended to help shield it from the inevitable court challenges over religious freedom and discrimination. The ACLU of Arkansas and the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers have promised to sue. The Satanic Temple, the group that successfully battled a similar monument in Oklahoma in 2015, said it will file as an intervener to any such lawsuit. As in Oklahoma, the Temple seeks to install a 10-foot bronze representation of a goat-headed deity called Baphomet on the Capitol grounds, which it describes as a symbol of religious pluralism.

Former legislator pleads guilty

Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV, a former Democratic legislator from Pine Bluff, pleaded guilty Monday to "conspiring to accept over $80,000 in bribes in exchange for influencing Arkansas state legislation and transactions," the office of U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland announced.

The bribes were concealed as donations to St. James United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, where Wilkins served as pastor, the release states.

Among the favors Wilkins provided in return, according to the U.S. attorney: "steering approximately $245,000 in Arkansas General Improvement funds to his co-conspirators."

News of Wilkins' illegal dealings first broke in March at a bond hearing for Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist whose widespread dealings in the Arkansas legislature have been linked to multiple unfolding federal corruption probes. At that hearing, an assistant U.S. attorney said Wilkins had given a statement to FBI agents that he had taken $100,000 in bribes from Cranford while he served in the legislature. At the time, Wilkins was serving as Jefferson County Judge. He resigned later that month.

Voter ID law blocked

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray has granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the state's Voter ID law. Early voting in the state's May 22 primary begins May 7.

Gray's ruling comes in response to a public interest lawsuit brought by Barry Haas that asked Gray to enjoin use of the state's new voter ID law in the primary elections. The Arkansas Supreme Court held in a 2014 case that a previous version of the law was unconstitutional. The 2017 legislature altered the language in the law, but the new lawsuit argues that it remains unconstitutional.

"[The] plaintiff has established a likelihood of success on the merits on all claims raised in his Complaint," Gray wrote in her order granting the preliminary injunction. She found that the plaintiff was forced with the choice of "complying with the unconstitutional requirements imposed by Act 633 [the Voter ID law] or not having his ballot counted during the May 2018 preferential primary." She ruled "that irreparable harm would result to plaintiff in the absence of a preliminary injunction, as his ballot will not be counted."

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin has asked the state Supreme Court to stay Gray's order "no later than noon Friday, May 4." 

Haas is represented by Jeff Priebe.

LRSD cuts coming

The Little Rock School District is set to lose about 80 more jobs, largely due to a decline in student enrollment by around 400 in the 2017-18 school year. State data show the district's enrollment for this year is 22,759, down from 23,164 in 2016-17.

School districts are funded by the state on a per-pupil basis, so losing kids means losing revenue — and that means cutting staff.

LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore told the district's Community Advisory Board last week the district needs to trim about $5.5 million from its budget for the upcoming 2018-19 school year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The job cuts will include positions for 30 teachers, 20 paraprofessionals, 18 building-level administrators and a number of other central office and support staff outside of individual school campuses, including in IT, security, finance, maintenance and other roles. Twelve school improvement specialist positions will also be cut. The superintendent said most individuals losing their jobs can expect to be rehired in other positions within the LRSD.

El Dorado amps up the Southern Food and Wine Fest

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

And much more.


8 p.m. South on Main. $30-$38.

Bonnie Bishop had given it her all. The Texas native spent years on the Lone Star State's honky-tonk circuit, before landing a publishing deal in Nashville. Bonnie Raitt and the TV show "Nashville" each picked up one of her songs. But the grind got to her, and she called it quits, moved back home with her parents at 35 and applied to grad school. Then she met Dave Cobb, right around the time he was getting notice for producing country records with plenty of rock and soul in the mix for the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. Cobb said it was crazy she was trying to sing country music. You're a soul singer, he told her. That led to the pair collaborating on the 2016 album "Ain't Who I Was." American Songwriter magazine said, "Her vocals mix the Southern sass of Shelby Lynne with the guts of Susan Tedeschi, leaving room for a fair amount of Bonnie Raitt-styled grit and gumption," and said the album takes "'Dusty in Memphis' as its stylistic template and moves it into a contemporary, but not slick, setting." This is the last concert in the Oxford American's 2017-18 Americana Series. LM


Various times. Murphy Arts District, El Dorado.

With last year's opening of the Murphy Arts District's MAD Amphitheater and restaurant and venue The Griffin, the somewhat sleepy Southern Food & Wine Festival El Dorado has hosted the last three years gets a major jolt in year four. The masses will want to take note of Saturday's offerings: From 3-6 p.m. in the amphitheater, there will be a wine pour featuring a number of wineries; music from Emily & Matt, Trey Johnson and Maggie Koerner; and food available for purchase from food trucks. Admission is $20. At 8 p.m., also in the amphitheater, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit returns to Arkansas after playing a January date at Robinson Center Performance Hall that sold out quickly. Over the last decade or so, Isbell has developed a reputation as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. The 400 Unit, Little Rock concertgoers reported, puts on a hell of a rock 'n' roll show, too. Even better, British folk-rock god Richard Thompson opens the show. A founding member of Fairport Convention, he's released more than 30 albums as a duet partner, with his ex-wife Linda Thompson, and alone. Rolling Stone magazine called him one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Tickets run from $32.50 to $60. For those with deeper pocketbooks and an appreciation of fine cuisine and wine, at 7 p.m. Friday, acclaimed chefs from El Dorado, San Francisco and Paris will collaborate on a five-course dinner, each of which will be paired with wine. Sommeliers from New York and San Francisco will be making the selections. Tickets are $175 per person. More info at eldomad.com. LM


9 a.m. Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m. Sun. Various venues. Free-$775.

A bevvy of film enthusiasts, celebs, fun-seekers and corporate "changemakers" will descend upon Bentonville this week to celebrate the Bentonville Film Festival, Geena Davis' creative brainchild that celebrates inclusion and diversity in all forms of media. The six-day event is the culmination of the Bentonville Film Festival Foundation's year-long programming, and boasts an ambitiously overwhelming lineup of screenings, panel discussions, concerts and family activities: nearly 150 feature, documentary and short-film screenings (including 10 feature debuts), juried competition, a host of star-studded discussion panels (Meg Ryan will be honored with a Legacy Award), live concerts by acts like Los Lobos, group bike rides, a pet adoption drive, and a fully immersive Marvel experience. "Include" is the catchphrase for the event, which reflects Davis' personal charge to shift the film industry's culture. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004, which strives to "engage, educate and influence content creators, marketers and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes and creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media." In its fourth year strong, the BFF is a project of epic proportions, one made possible by sponsors like Walmart and Coca-Cola. Day passes are $65 and week passes are $275, but plenty of events are free. Best to check the BFF website (or download the festival app, for that matter) for a full schedule of what's going on. RB


5 p.m. Fri., 1 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Tom Lee Park, Memphis. $55-$125.

It's time for Memphis in May again, y'all, that fantastic excuse to cross Old Man River and spend a few days sweating with our Tennessee neighbors to the east. You can pretty much count on it raining at least once. Sure, there are lots of activities that make up Memphis in May, but we all know that the true jewel is the legendary Beale Street Music Festival. Three full days of straight-up fantastic times and live music that make all of us Arkies more than a little bit envious. They've been doing the BSMF since 1990 and they know how to do it right: three days, three big stages, one blues tent and one blues "shack." It's no surprise to find good music in Memphis, of course, and the BSMF lineup this year is damn-near luscious. Big names include Jack White, David Byrne, Erykah Badu, Queens of the Stone Age, Post Malone, Ludacris, Flaming Lips, Dashboard Confessional, Tyler the Creator, Alanis Morrisette, Cake, Delbert McClinton, Andrew W.K. and more. This one's undoubtedly worth the drive. Hop in and head east. You'll be glad you did. GH


5:15 p.m. Fri., noon Sat., 11 a.m. Sun. Downtown Conway. Free.

Consistently one of the very best things about Toad Suck Daze is the chance to mention it to out-of-staters and get that whole, "Umm, what's that again?" conversation going as they envision an Arkie festival crowd with mouths fulla amphibians. It's good for a laugh, at least until we remember that our leaders actually do have an annual raccoon-eating event every January. Toad Suck Daze has much better eats and entertainment, a free festival filling the streets of Conway with music and families every year. All proceeds from Toad Suck Daze (held since 1982) go to supporting local scholarship and downtown development. Come for the "Very Important Toad Races" (held intermittently throughout the festival) and stay late for the headlining bands. Toad Suck Daze 2018 features a family-friendly musical lineup that includes the funk/soul sounds of Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal headlining on Friday and the legendary Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives on Saturday. Sunday morning features praise and worship music beginning at 10 a.m. for those who want a little outdoor church time. If that's not enough good clean family fun for you, sign up for the official Toad Suck Daze 10K, 5K or Tadpole Trot. The Toad Suck T-shirt alone should be motivation enough. GH


7 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Arkansas Repertory Theatre. $30-$50.

After last week's announcement that The Rep will be immediately suspending its operations, "Ballet Arkansas in Concert With Drew Mays" could be the last show to grace the stage for some time. The performance is part of a three-year series made possible by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust that marries live musical accompaniment with renowned works of classical and contemporary dance. Drew Mays, who won the Cliburn International Piano Competition, will back up an intricate pas de deux ("step of two") male-female duet by Agnes De Mille, work by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, as well as world work by Ballet Arkansas Artistic Director Michael Fothergill. RB

FRIDAY 5/4 and SUNDAY 5/6

7:30 p.m. (Friday) and 3 p.m. (Sunday). UA Pulaski Tech's Center for Humanities and the Arts. $13-$60.

Famed composer William Grant Still broke all sorts of ground. He was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony and the first to have a symphony performed by a prominent orchestra. The Little Rock-raised composer was also the first African American to have an opera performed by an established opera company. Opera and the Rock presents that production, "Troubled Island," for the first time in Arkansas and featuring an all African-American cast of local and regional talent. Still collaborated on the libretto with Langston Hughes before Hughes left the project to cover the Spanish Civil War; librettist Verna Arvey completed the project with Still, and the two later married. The story is about Jean Jacques Dessalines, the African slave who liberated Haiti from the French and later became emperor of the country. UCA alumni Ronald Jensen-McDaniel and Nisheedah Golden star as Dessalines and his wife, Azelia. LM


2 p.m. Historic Arkansas Museum. Free, registration required.

The Historic Arkansas Museum offers a sneak preview of the new PBS "Masterpiece" adaptation of "Little Women," followed by wholesome Civil War-period-themed activities. Premiering to the public May 13, the nine-part mini-series follows Louisa May Alcott's classic female bildungsroman of the four March sisters — Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy, and their virtuous matriarch, Marmee. The PBS version features Angela Langsbury as crotchety old Aunt March, joined by Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledore in the last six Harry Potter films) as the Marchs' benevolent neighbor Mr. Laurence. Guests of the screening will get the chance to try their hand with a quill pen (as used by Jo) and explore other Little Women-era artifacts on the HAM grounds. This promises to be a delightfully feel-good event, a solid chance to bond with your mom. RB


Noon. Kanis Skate Park. Free.

Kanis Park is one of those rare places that fully embody the local punk/DIY ethos, started and maintained for almost a decade by the work and money of the local skate community until the city and corporate pocketbooks kicked in big-time a couple of years ago for some much-needed improvements. It's one of those great, semi-hidden places in Little Rock that are easy to miss unless you have a reason to make it your destination. Consider this your reason. Kanis Bash 2018 is a full day of skateboarding, local bratty punk and building community. Come out to skate or watch, while the likes of Life Sucks, 9th Professor, Skate Fast Die, Jethro Skull, UltraRiot and The Outbound Train provide the soundtrack to what'll be both an epic day for the kids and a super flashback for the more seasoned set. GH


8 p.m. The Root Cafe. Free.

Movies in the (Root) Parking Lot continues its theme of nostalgia-inducing cult favorites with a screening of the original "Ghostbusters" Sunday night. Brought to SoMa by the Arkansas Cinema Society and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, the series offers a good excuse to get outside and take the edge off your Sunday blues, drink some beer and chill with your neighbors. Food and snacks will be available from Shambala Mobile Vegan Kitchen, Adobo To Go and other food trucks. There will be a beer tent, courtesy of Lost Forty Brewing. Kids and dogs are welcome. BYOFolding Chair, BYOQuilt. RB

Adam and Chris Carroll come to White Water Tavern

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Also, the Travs take on the Naturals.


Beloved Texas singer/songwriter Adam Carroll returns to the White Water Tavern, this time performing as a duo with his wife, Chris Carroll, 8 p.m. Traveling Squirrels and Kyle Owen play a benefit for the family of Dustin Andrew Searcy, an Arkansas musician who died recently, at Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack, 8 p.m., $3 (all ages). Comedian Mike Baldwin yuks it up at The Loony Bin, 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 10 p.m. Fri-Sat, $8-12. Tyrannosaurus Sketch debuts at The Joint in North Little Rock, 8 p.m., $5. Jay Roewe, senior vice president of West Coast production at HBO, will participate in "A Conversation about Film, Community and HBO" with Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane about, among other things, the third season of "True Detective," which is filming in and around Fayetteville, 6 p.m., free, but reservations are requested. "Southern Fried Nuptials" continues at Murry's Dinner Playhouse, 6 p.m. (through Saturday), and 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, $15-$35. Chuck Pack plays at Cajun's Wharf for happy hour, 5:30 p.m., free, or come later for Pamela K. Ward's set, 9 p.m., $5.


Folk rockers Blue Highway channel the sounds of Texas and Louisiana at Stickyz, 8:30 p.m., $10. A month ago, 30 local musicians got together, drew names out of a bucket and were sorted into groups that were tasked with coming up with original music in four weeks. Those six groups perform short sets at White Water to benefit Lucie's Place, 9 p.m., $3. Arkansas natives Anna Moss and Joel Ludford, late of the Conway band Don't Stop Please, return to Little Rock as the delightful duo Handmade Moments to play South on Main, 9 p.m., $12. Hoodoo Blues Revue comes to Four Quarter Bar in North Little Rock, 10 p.m., $7. Josh Hoyer & Soul Collosal play along with Alex Velte at King's Live Music in Conway, 8:30 p.m., $5. Fire & Brimstone soundtrack happy hour at Cajun's Wharf, 5:30 p.m., free, and The Woodpeckers headline, 9 p.m., $5. Galleries on Central Avenue in Hot Springs are open from 5-9 p.m. for the monthly Hot Springs Gallery Walk.


Christone "Kingfish" Ingram is a teenaged blues guitar virtuoso from Clarksdale, Miss., who graduated from high school last year. He comes to Stickyz the night after playing the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis and in advance of his much anticipated album debut, 9 p.m., $10 advance, $12 day of show. The 12-member party band Big Damn Horns blow their horns at Revolution, 9:30 p.m., $8. Arkansas's favorite psych-a-Delta duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken take a break from their work in the Ben Miller Band to play White Water, 9 p.m., $10. The Old Statehouse Museum hosts its annual Seersucker Social with food from Brewski's Pub and Grub, mint juleps (made from Rock Town Distillery bourbon) and craft beer from Lost Forty. The event benefits the museum's School Bus Fund, 3 p.m., $25-$100. MarQuis & Mood play a Cinco de Mayo Funk Fiesta that doubles as a celebration of Marquis Hunt's 50th birthday, 9 p.m., $15. Fayetteville party band Cadillac Jackson helps Four Quarter celebrate Cinco de Mayo, 10 p.m., $7. The Arkansas Travelers host the Northwest Arkansas Naturals at Dickey-Stephens Park, 5:30 p.m. The series continues Sunday (2:10 p.m.), Monday and Tuesday (7:10 p.m.). Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings share a bill with The Going Jessies at King's Live Music, 8:30 p.m., $5. Adam Tilly plays at Cajun's Wharf for happy hour, 5:30 p.m., free, or come later for The Shame's set, 9 p.m., $5. The Delta Cultural Center in Helena/West Helena opens its exhibition "Over Here and There: the Sons and Daughters of Arkansas's Delta at War" with a remembrance ceremony at 11 a.m., followed by the posting of colors.


Amy Garland, Blues Boy Jag & the Juke Joint Zombies, the Akeem Kemp Band and more play a benefit for Nightflying magazine that begins at 3 p.m. at White Water; Midtown Billiards hosts the after party. Swimming with Bears from Austin, Texas, play dance-y indie pop at Stickyz with The Cuckoos opening, $10 advance, $12 day of show.


It's a jam-packed lineup of a wide variety at White Water, with sets from Princeaus, Couch Jackets, Spirit Cuntz and 9th Scientist, 7 p.m.


Cleveland's Mushroomhead have been playing industrial metal for 15 years. The group comes to Revolution, 7:30 p.m., $20-25.

Sky Modern hits all the right notes — and price point

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

It's a sushi go-to.

Little Rock, at least for the moment, is swimming in a sea of solid, no-frills sushi restaurants. Sky Modern Japanese, located in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center, deserves to be mentioned alongside some of our other favorites like Kiyen's or Hanaroo. You don't get that intimate, chic, white-table-cloth vibe of Kemuri, but you do get consistency and quality, not to mention a lower price point.

The inside of the restaurant is modern and clean, with high ceilings and glossy concrete floors. The music is turned very low. A few booths dot the walls, but there's little else in the way of privacy. We opted for the patio, a great choice on a hospitable evening. It's spacious and clean. String lights give a warm glow. Muzak pumped in from the shopping plaza provides a bland soundtrack, but it's also scientifically engineered to be ignored.

You can do a lot worse than the Sky Peartini ($9), a mix of ginger liqueur, pear vodka and lime juice. It comes in an electric blue glass and zaps the palate with a warming fruity buzz. It was a nice pairing for the Seared Albacore Roll ($12). A roll of bright red spicy tuna, scallion, cilantro and avocado is topped with thin slices of seared and sesame-speckled albacore tuna. The overall effect is fresh and light. Sliced scallions add texture and a visual pop.

The Japanese eggplant is another great starter ($7.59). Sliced eggplant is sauteed with a honey sesame miso glaze and topped with a smattering of flash-fried microgreens. The eggplant was cooked until soft, the glaze was pasty, sticky and gave the dish a warm, honey-colored glow. It's a good mix of sweet and salty. Microgreens added a nice contrasting texture and had that satisfying "fried" flavor we all love.

A note about ordering sushi. In general this exercise has the potential to make us feel harried and nervous. There are always plenty (or too many) options, each with its own tiny description and occasional unknown ingredient. At Sky, the process is made easier. For one, they have a very manageable number of special rolls, 25 to be exact. Second, each is described by what's on the inside, and what's on the outside. It's very simple and direct, which we like.

Take the Spicy Spider Roll ($14). It's described on the menu as "Inside: tempura soft-shell crab, green onion, masago, spicy mayo and cucumber. Outside: tobiko and soft shell crab mix on top." And that's exactly what you get. Visually, it's different. It's not presented in your typical roll. Instead, you get a bed of sliced sushi topped with chopped-up bits of soft shell crab and a dark dash of tobiko roe. This one is decidedly heavy, owing to the large dose of fried crab, but it's tasty and one we would order again.

If sushi isn't your thing, try a hibachi dinner. We opted for chicken ($15.99). You can choose between soup or salad as a starter, and we recommend the ginger dressing if you order the salad. The tender white meat chicken was served with hibachi vegetables, three grilled shrimp, rice (we upgraded from steamed to fried for $3.29), and two dipping sauces.

In our experience, hibachi dinners are laden with soy sauce and oil. That's not the case at Sky. In fact, all the components of the hibachi dinner were flavorful but not overly seasoned, including the sauteed vegetables — zucchini, carrots, onions and mushrooms. The ginger- and mustard-based dipping sauces are not an afterthought but lend flashes of flavor to the simply seasoned chicken.

With its friendly service, a creative and user-friendly sushi menu, and generous portions, Sky has the potential to become your new go-to place for sushi.

Sky Modern Japanese
11525 Cantrell Road


The Firecracker Roll ($12.50) is great, though a bit difficult to eat. It's filled with spicy crab and avocado and topped with a cracker-sized piece of fried wonton, a slice of fresh tuna, mango salsa and a drizzle of hot sauce. Everything tastes spot on; it's just a little more than a mouthful. It's almost two dishes: the roll itself and the ceviche-like topping.


11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 9:30 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, to 9 p.m. Sunday.


Full bar, CC accepted.

The battle for Hillcrest

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Tippi McCullough and Ross Noland square off to represent perhaps the House's most progressive district.

On May 22, voters will decide between Tippi McCullough, a longtime teacher and activist, and Ross Noland, an attorney and nonprofit director, in a race to represent downtown and midtown Little Rock in the state legislature. Actually, only Democratic voters will decide the race, but in House District 33, which stretches across Little Rock's midsection, from Reservoir Road to the River Market, south of Riverdale and mostly to the north of Interstate 630, there's not much distinction between Democratic voters and all voters. It's perhaps the state's most reliably liberal district.

After serving three terms, Democratic Rep. Warwick Sabin announced last year he would not seek re-election, but would instead explore running for Little Rock mayor. The winner of the Democratic primary will win the November election by default; no Republican or Libertarian candidate filed to run.

At a debate sponsored by the Pulaski County Democratic Party held Monday at Philander Smith College, McCullough and Noland substantively agreed on all policy questions: Both oppose Governor Hutchinson's proposal to reduce income tax rates on the state's highest earners, think charter schools should not be able to grow unchecked, believe that public schools are underfunded, argue that the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences needs more state funding and support the preservation of War Memorial Park as green space.

McCullough and Noland live one street apart in Hillcrest, but their backgrounds and policy priorities separate them, each candidate said in an interview.

McCullough, 54, has taught English at Little Rock Central High School for the last four years. Before that, she spent 14 years at Mount St. Mary Academy, which fired her in 2013 for marrying her longtime partner, Pulaski County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Barbara Mariani. The Catholic girls' school said McCullough had violated a morality clause in her contract, though according to McCullough, her relationship with Mariani was no secret at the school. The firing led to a public outcry; McCullough and Mariani traveled around the country sharing their story on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign's advocacy for LGBT rights.

The experience "opened my eyes a little bit" to politics, McCullough said. She became president of the Stonewall Democrats in 2014, which in turn got her more involved in state Democratic politics. It was a natural transition from LGBT advocate to political activist. "LGBT people are people — they have the same issues everyone else does" with housing, jobs and health care, she said. In January 2017, she became the chair of the Pulaski County Democratic Party. (She stepped back from active leadership during the campaign and plans to resume her duties after the election.)

On the campaign trail, McCullough likes to say, "I've lived in Little Rock for nearly 20 years, and I'm fortunate to live in Hillcrest, but I didn't grow up there." She was raised by a single mother in Hot Springs. She was the first in her family to get a college education, thanks, McCullough says, to her basketball skills, which landed her a scholarship at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. After graduation, she got a job coaching basketball and teaching English in Kingston (Madison County) and later Mountain Pine (Garland County) and Newport. She was the first woman to be president of the Arkansas Basketball Coaches Association. (Asked in the debate Monday how she would govern in the minority party, she cited that leadership, saying the association looked a lot like the legislature, which drew laughs from the audience.)

Coaching and teaching all over the state makes it easy for her to relate to people, she said. She's witnessed the "struggles" of her students and their families, "whether it was because they were homeless or hungry or suffering abuse." That experience, along with her involvement in the Arkansas Education Association, which she said "strives to improve students' lives at school and also the teaching profession as a whole," gives her an edge in the campaign, she said. "Every door I knock on, when I ask them the most important issue to them, they say, 'Education.' "

McCullough is vice president of the Hillcrest Residents Association. When the Hillcrest Merchants Association considered shuttering the popular Hillcrest HarvestFest, she volunteered to step in to run the fest.

Noland, 37, is a lawyer who divides his time between his firm, specializing in environmental litigation, and serving as executive director of the Buffalo River Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to cooperative conservation in the Buffalo River watershed. He cites his Arkansas bona fides on the campaign trail. He was born and raised in Little Rock and graduated from Central High School in 1999 as "Mr. Tiger Spirit." He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, before completing a master's degree in environmental law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After working at a private firm in D.C., he returned to Little Rock to clerk for Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan. Then he joined U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln's staff as legislative counsel to Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which Lincoln chaired. After she was defeated by John Boozman, Noland returned to Little Rock and worked primarily on environmental litigation for the McMath Woods law firm for five years before going into solo practice and taking on the leadership position with the Buffalo River Foundation.

Noland says his experience gives him the edge in the campaign. He's seen the inner workings of government, from his time at the U.S. Senate to working as an attorney in Little Rock and writing bills that have become law and rules that became regulations.

His knowledge of environmental issues also separates him from McCullough, he said. "There is no leader out on environmental issues down there. If there's one thing that affects us all — rich or poor, black or white, north or south of the interstate — it's the air that we breathe and the water we drink. To me, it's one of the most important issues facing the state and the nation right now, and I don't think we have enough emphasis on it. ... As far as what I can get done, I'm fully aware that I'm running to be a freshman in the lower house in the minority party."

But Noland said issues he's campaigning on have broad-based appeal. He wants to make renewable energy more accessible to the average person. "We need to make it easy for retail customers to deploy solar, whether it's through access to financing or making sure they get a fair price when they put energy back into the grid," he said. "There's a freedom association to producing your own energy" that Republicans should appreciate. He also said the playbook for state conservation could be used in passing other environmental measures in the legislature.

"We have a strong outdoor recreation movement in Arkansas. It's key for the environmental and conservation movement to tie what you like to do outdoors on the weekend to the fact that you need clean air and water to do it — whether it's duck hunting or floating or whatever." Outdoor activity is a "huge economic engine" throughout the state, he said.

Noland is married to Ali Noland; they have two children, the oldest of whom is in pre-K in the Little Rock School District. "The fundamental role of the legislature is to perform oversight of its executive agencies," he said. "We've got to get a plan to return to local control of the school board," he said. Expanding pre-K throughout the state is also one of his priorities.

Noland said he supports the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial and strongly opposes Issue 1, the legislatively referred constitutional amendment that would limit the amount of compensation juries can provide for noneconomic damages, such as in injury or wrongful death cases.

After years of being a "policy person," Noland said he decided to get involved in politics because of the political climate. "The time to act is now. If you're not pissed off about what's going on out there now, you're not paying attention," he said.

40 days of action

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

The news of the goings-on in D.C. is almost too much to handle. A steady stream of unqualified and shortsighted men and women rotate in and out of high-level government positions.

The news of the goings-on in D.C. is almost too much to handle. A steady stream of unqualified and shortsighted men and women rotate in and out of high-level government positions. We get rid of one and another pops up to take his or her place.

It appears more and more likely that the House chaplain was asked to resign by Speaker Paul Ryan in response to a prayer for the poor during the debate over the GOP tax bill. Meanwhile, the American people are lied to daily and the free press is constantly under attack by this administration. When comedian Michelle Wolf called the whole mess out at the White House Correspondents Dinner, suddenly there was a rush of journalists defending the chief liar and abuser, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Why? Fear of losing access? Agency capture of the media? Stockholm syndrome?

Back home in our communities, certain politicians work hard to stoke fears that someone, such as an immigrant, a poor person, a teacher or someone out of work, might get one morsel of food, health care, pay, or another benefit they might not "deserve." We are abandoning and hurting entire groups of people as we race to see who can be the toughest on those who dare reach out for help in making their way. But instead of worrying about our public schools, teacher pay and insurance, and the plan to further cut taxes on the rich, we are focused on all the wrong things, such as making sure we have a Ten Commandment monument that can't be knocked down again or defending the honor of a well-paid, serial liar from a joke about her eye makeup. While we are worried about those who "punch up," we allow our government and president unfettered ability to "punch down." Where is our conscience?

Well, I bring you some good news. In all of this cruelty and carrying on, a group of people is bringing light into the world. And they need help. On May 13, 2018, 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, a nonpartisan coalition of people across the country, including here in Arkansas, are relaunching the campaign to, in their own words, "challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation's distorted morality."

I know what you are thinking. Here's another group with another event I need to attend. I get it. Fatigue has set in. It's easier to tune out than to stay engaged. But I ask you, before you write off this group, to do some research on the man who is leading this new Poor People's Campaign. His name is Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. His name is a mouthful, but his message is simple: We need a moral revival to save our country. And for those of you who cringe at the thought of joining up with anything involved with church, the religion behind this movement is reminiscent of the way the faith communities helped bring about the civil rights movement.

Launching on Mother's Day, the group plans 40 days of nonviolent direct action. There will be protests on Mondays in Little Rock, similar to the Moral Monday movement Barber used so effectively in North Carolina to help defeat regressive legislation, and other opportunities to engage throughout the state.

Keep in mind, the movement in North Carolina started small. Fewer than 20 people showed up for the first event. But, five years later, the group had 80,000 strong attending a rally. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, are often arrested after taking part in nonviolent civil disobedience. Watching the poor and elderly being led away in cuffs while singing protest songs is a powerful scene. And I'm convinced more drastic action is the way to go. Letters and phone calls won't change hearts and policy. People will bring about change. (A bit of a disclaimer: I recently started volunteering for the legal committee of the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign, but I take no credit for any of the good work being done by the volunteers across Arkansas.)

So, in a country where we care more about what Kanye West says about President Trump than we do about the lack of clean water in Flint, Mich., there is a group whose message of change and reform rings true. Look up the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign on Facebook or online. Since all types of politicians are quick to quote King even while they support policies such as a strict voter ID law, raising rent on the poor and destroying our public schools, maybe if enough people show up during these 40 days of action, they will begin to take his words to heart, especially what he says about the Poor People's Campaign of his day coming "to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible."

Whither the Rep

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Its destiny is not in the stars, but ourselves.

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre last week produced the greatest drama in the 44-year history of the stage last week when it announced its debt was so deep it had to cancel its last play of the season and bring down the curtain indefinitely.

The news got a standing "Oh, no" from actors and audiences who knew that Little Rock — and Arkansas — had something special in its professional theater. The Rep has a reputation of great performances among theatergoers and as a great place to work among the many actors who've come to Little Rock. The idea that The Rep might close brought into sharp focus what that would cost Little Rock — fortunately, before it's gone, not after.

The drama has been building for quite some time, thanks to a dive in ticket sales and a faltering capital campaign. The course of theater never does run smooth, the Bard might say, but finding itself without the means to stage its final 2017-18 season production, "God of Carnage," which was to open in June, the theater's board of directors darkened the house.

The secured and unsecured debt — including $1.6 million in bank loans, including mortgages — is in total "north of $2 million," Brian Bush, chairman of The Rep's board, said last week. The board is trying to raise $750,000 to $1 million immediately to settle vendor debt and begin paying off the Bank of the Ozarks, which Bush said has been "cooperative and intimately involved in what's going on for at least six months." The board is also forming a group, "The Next Act," to talk about what form The Rep should take to be sustainable.

The Rep does have assets: Its theater at Main and Sixth streets and two apartment buildings for its out-of-town actors have been appraised at more than $6.5 million, Bush said. That makes it "real estate rich and cash poor," he said. Selling its real estate "is on the table," though the fact that The Rep has a place for its actors to stay has been one of the great draws for them to the Arkansas theater.

The Rep had raised $1.7 million during the quiet phase of a capital campaign the past couple of years, Bush said, but had hoped to raise $2.7 million during that phase. The total goal of $5.2 million would have retired all debt and created a cushion for the future, but with declining revenues — The Rep could only fill 47 percent its seats this season, Bush said, and campaign cash had to be spent to put on the plays.

The Rep's staff will be cut from 30 to 10 as of May 8. Producing Artistic Director John Miller-Stephany is among those losing his job. The theater education program, which breaks even, will continue through the summer.

There may be some good news: Potentially waiting in the wings is a $1.8 million grant The Rep has applied for from the Windgate Charitable Trust of Siloam Springs, which has made several multimillion-dollar gifts in the past few years to the arts, including $40 million last year to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to create an art and design district and $20.3 million to UA Little Rock and $15.5 million to UA Fort Smith for their fine arts buildings. Should The Rep receive the grant, it would have to match it.


"What I can tell you," actor Patrick Halley said last week, "is The Rep had a sterling reputation in New York as a wonderful and warm and incredibly artist-friendly place to work. The way I got my first audition there was a friend I knew had worked there — I begged him, 'Could you put in a good word for me?' " Since then, Halley has appeared in a number of Rep productions, including "The School for Lies" last October.

"What always set The Rep apart was, some places you would go and work in a metropolis with a ton of options as far as culture goes. The audiences at The Rep always stood out as excited and engaged and grateful and you really got a sense of the impact that your work was having in the community." Not every audience is like that, he said.

The Rep's staff of designers "are at the top of their game," Halley said, "and that's not always common. Folks like Linda Parlier [assistant to the production manager] and Alan Branson [sound design and engineer] and Mike Nichols [technical director and set designer], the costume shop — they had a world-class team."

Halley called Bob Hupp, the producing artistic director from 1999-2016, "an inspiring leader" and managing director Mike McCurdy "one of the kindest and sweetest men on the face of the earth."

Halley was in Fayetteville when the news The Rep would suspend operations got out.

"The Rep has been so good to me," Halley said. "When I got the news, it felt like someone has passed away. I was so very, very sad."

On Friday, the Friends of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced a Rally for the Rep to be held Tuesday, May 1, in front of the theater, with music by the Greasy Greens, and special friends of the theater, including founder Cliff Baker, the director from 1976-1998 and a guest director for the past 17 years, will attend. By Monday, 1,300 people had clicked the "Interested" button and more than 200 people had donated a total of $73,000.

"In a strange way," Halley said, "the level of outcry speaks to how special it was." As Joni Mitchell sang, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Candyce Hinkle has been an actress for 40 years, and has appeared in plays at The Rep and other local theaters, as well as in such nationally released movies as the Coen brothers' "True Grit."

"The Rep has been my heart, honey, and this is just devastating," Hinkle said. "You can go anywhere in Central Arkansas and see talented people tell good stories, but when you go to The Rep ... . You don't realize how supported they are by technical artists. Mike Nichols' sets, the ability to create atmosphere by sound and lights. It's such a team effort to put on the shows that they do. That is what we don't get anywhere else. It's a professional jewel in our midst."

Hinkle is convinced that there is enough support for The Rep that it can reopen and stay open. "It doesn't have to come back as the grandiose giant it had become. Even if it comes back with a different flavor, but the same dedication to technical support and quality of performances: That's what we have to save."

The school must go on, as well, Hinkle said. "How many lives has that program changed? Just to give those kids that. They are treated professionally: It's not a babysitting opportunity. It's hard work: You hold a kid to a standard, and they're going to meet it. It's strictly professional, it's not just fun — it's work to get to the fun."


"I took a couple of days of heartache and mourning," Cliff Baker said from his home outside Mayflower, but now he's ready for action.

Baker came to Arkansas from Missouri in the 1960s to enroll in the Arkansas Arts Center's bachelor of fine arts program, which in its short time drew national accolades and a visit from The Juilliard School at its closing to recruit some of its actors. After working in theater outside Arkansas for a while, Baker returned to visit friends "and they said, 'Let's do a play,' and I rented a storefront ... and they were all kinky plays," Baker said.

The Arkansas Philharmonic was also short-lived. Support for a new theater came from old-money folks who were thrilled to see a higher level of theater established in Little Rock. The Rep sold 300 season tickets at a fundraiser in the posh Edgehill neighborhood "and we didn't have a theater and we didn't have a season," Baker said.

The theater opened in what had been Hunter Memorial Methodist Church, across the street from MacArthur Park, and though the venue was humble, the theater staged ambitious productions, from the breakout gay-themed play "The Boys in the Band" (performed at the Arts Center before its Off-Broadway premiere) to musicals "Marat/Sade," "Threepenny Opera" and "Ain't Misbehavin."

The actors were young, the budget was a shoestring, and even if Baker rehearsed a play for two weeks, "If I knew it was going to be bad, we just didn't do it."

"In the nonprofit theater world, I don't think you ever feel like you are on your feet," Baker said. But in the 1980s, when the budget for The Rep reached $500,000 "and the actors weren't having to do everything," he decided it was time to look for a larger home. The Rep moved to its building on Main, with its larger theater and production space, in 1988. Its operating budget is $4 million.

"I think the idea of a professional theater made all the difference" to the Little Rock audience, Baker said. "And people felt like they may not always like a particular play, but they knew it was going to be well done and there would be elements they would remember — the performances or the design."

Baker doesn't believe people have lost interest in live theater. Little Rock and North Little Rock support The Weekend Theater, The Public Theatre, Celebrity Attraction productions at Robinson Center Performance Hall, the Argenta Community Theater, the Arkansas Arts Center's Children's Theatre and Murry's Dinner Playhouse. But those venues — primarily Celebrity Attractions shows in the renovated Robinson — also present competition.

Baker does think some of the excitement is missing. People can't expect a big "joyous hit" like "Sister Act," which Baker last directed at The Rep, every time they go to the theater. And a theater can't sustain itself by planning that the success of one big show will carry the others.

Now, with the "Second Act" strategizing, Baker is thinking about how to reopen The Rep in a model that would be sustainable. "That's where I'm focusing. I'm calling friends and colleagues and and asking what works, what doesn't work.

"It's an age-old dilemma for nonprofit theater. The Rep kind of overgrew and couldn't support it."


Ginger Pool, producing artistic director of Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Va., has felt The Rep's pain. So when Pool heard about The Rep's crisis, she called board member Ruth Shepherd and offered to help in any way she could.

In 2009, Mill Mountain, which had its roots in a playhouse established in 1964, found itself $860,000 in debt. Its debt wasn't related to real estate, but because for a decade it had over-produced, employed a fulltime professional staff of 23 with benefits, suffered high overhead and staged "a little bit of vanity theater, producing shows that Roanoke wasn't supporting. The quality never dropped, but when the audience is not listening to you ... ."

And so Mill Mountain ceased operations, keeping only Pool, the director of its revenue-producing education program. The fulltime staff and 16 contract employees and 12 interns were let go. It cashed in its Actors Equity Association bond.

So Pool got to work by meeting one-on-one with vendors, negotiating such things as payment plans and tax credits and "asking for forgiveness. ... It was the hardest work I've ever done, and the most rewarding." Within a year, all but $75,000 of the debt had been paid off or negotiated.

For a while, Mill Mountain's children's theater put on the only productions, on holidays. The theater realized "Roanoke hasn't given up on us yet," Pool said, when it was announced the youths would perform "Annie": The musical was a sellout before the play opened.

It took Mill Mountain four years to have a "soft reopening." A theater that once produced 14 shows on its main stage a season now produces three. The new business model, Pool said: "We have made a promise that each individual production will make money standing by itself. We are not in the frame of mind, do this giant show to pay for this riskier show. ... That's a slippery slope for theaters. ... So we look at what we're choosing, and if we have any hesitation if this show can't stand alone, we throw it out. We drill down to worst-case scenarios, really analyzing everything, before we announce [the season] to the public."

Mill Mountain still does theater that might be called art rather than entertainment, but does it in its small black box theater. It has also added Mill Mountain Music, twice-a-year concerts.

"I will say people don't donate money to pay off your debt. There are going to be angels in the community, but [their gifts are] not going to be of the magnitude that your problems are over," Pool warned.


Ironically, The Rep has been the anchor of development on Main Street, in what Mayor Mark Stodola calls the "Creative Corridor." Its educational program in a renovated historic building catercornered from the theater along with Ballet Arkansas's studio and a private gallery have supported the idea of a downtown arts district .

The mayor learned of The Rep's financial troubles a couple of weeks ago, he said. He said he'd approached Celebrity Attractions, which has a substantial marketing budget, about the possibility of the company's taking a Rep show on the road, and noted that the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau supports The Rep with a contribution of $50,000 a year. The city made a small contribution last fall by buying tickets for a group.

Stodola said The Rep had also broached the idea that perhaps the city could support the theater by buying the theater building and leasing it back to The Rep for a nominal sum, as is done in other cities. But Stodola said that idea was, for him, a no-go. "Other organizations that we support, they are city commissions, like the Arkansas Arts Center or the Museum of Discovery or the military museum," Stodola told the Times. If it were to become a commission, The Rep board would have had to give up its governance, Stodola said, which was something it was reluctant to do.

Board chair Bush said The Rep is open to collaborations with colleges and universities and other theaters.


Perhaps you are asking yourself, what sort of self-respecting city can't find the audience to keep its professional theater open? Former Producing Artistic Director Hupp, who is now artistic director at Syracuse Stage on the campus of Syracuse University in New York, said competition from the rise of local theater groups is a factor, if not the factor, for The Rep's woes.

"Celebrity Attractions has been performing [in the past], but they've never been able to bring in the tours they're bringing in now [thanks to the $70.5 million renovation of Robinson]. I mean, look at 'The Lion King,' 'Phantom of the Opera,' a tour of 'Les Mis' ['Les Miserables']."

"One of the things that's great about The Rep is the intimate relationship between the audience and the performers. So, that always played pretty well and distinguished The Rep from Celebrity Attractions. But the new model, and the amount of money the city put into the renovation of Robinson, definitely has an impact" on The Rep's ticket sales, Hupp said.

To those who are skeptical about competition's role in The Rep's trouble filling seats, Hupp insisted there is "legitimacy to the external factors."

Too, The Rep's real estate burden, which includes both debt and ongoing maintenance, is unusual, Hupp said. "The expense of owning those properties has always been a challenge for The Rep," he said.

The former director said he was saddened, but not surprised, by the news of The Rep's suspension. But he said The Rep can return.

"If there were some combination of grassroots support and either city leadership or private leadership that comes in and helps stabilize the theater, there is a path forward. There are people who feel very passionate about The Rep. You've seen the social media posts that have come out. That initial reaction of surprise and shock — if that can move beyond that initial emotional reaction to real activism, real organization, then The Rep has a great shot of sustaining itself in a reimagined form."

Here's how Hupp puts the question of what it says about a city that lets its professional theater fail this way: "I think the question people who live in Little Rock have to ask is, 'Is the situation with The Rep a canary in the coal mine?' Is this indicative of other, more challenging issues with the city?

"A thriving city should have thriving arts. And the arts organization has to be responsive and also provide leadership and vision for what the arts mean to the community. ... A healthy organization, wherever you are in the country, has to generate earned income and the city has to show its partnership in that equation through philanthropic dollars. And that's public support from the city itself and private support from those who have means and can help."

As the baseball bounces

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

A couple of weeks ago, I did what I do best around here: I delivered a hardcore jinx to a then-rolling Arkansas baseball team.

A couple of weeks ago, I did what I do best around here: I delivered a hardcore jinx to a then-rolling Arkansas baseball team. The Sports Illustrated cover hex ain't got nothin' on Pearls.

The Hogs had surged to the top of the SEC West Division at the midway point of the schedule, and that was after facing five conference foes that were ranked in the Top 15 nationally. There were a couple of oh-so-close whiffs that could've even elevated the Hogs to the top spot in the country with a bit better execution at the plate with runners on base and cleaner fielding, but it was mighty hard to argue with the results.

Then a seemingly innocuous trip to Starkville shifted things sharply the other direction, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs, still reeling from their upstart young head coach Andy Cannizaro resigning three games into the season due to personal indiscretions, trotted their .500 team out onto the diamond and promptly won three straight from the Hogs. From 10-5 to 10-8 in an instant, Arkansas looked suddenly and shockingly vulnerable, and with the team vying for a national seed and an opportunity to host Regional and Super Regional rounds in the NCAA Tournament if it can get that far, dropping three to the floundering Dawgs wasn't a good sign.

The opener was the bullpen's fault, as Blaine Knight was staked to a 5-0 lead that should always be good enough for the Razorback ace. But he ran into some trouble in the middle innings, and the Hog bullpen threw gas on the fire while the offense sputtered after its hot start. The next two games in a Saturday doubleheader roughly went the same way: Arkansas cranked out 23 hits in the day-night affair, which should be more than enough to carry a competent team to at least a split. But the Razorbacks were again short on clutch hits, leaving 20 men stranded over the two games, and the starting pitchers (Kacey Murphy first, then Isaiah Campbell in the nightcap) came a little unglued the second time through the State order.

Campbell, to be clear, is the liability on the Arkansas staff at this point. He's got a prototype physique and arm, and solid mechanics, but his command betrays him far too often to be a reliable weekend starter. He's looked great at times and awful at others, and that's why Coach Dave Van Horn didn't hesitate to bring his signature quick hook to the mound on Sunday when the Hogs were trying to finish off Alabama. More on that momentarily, though.

At any rate, Arkansas seemed to be hitting that unexpected, nasty lull that has occasionally befallen the Hogs during even their best seasons under Van Horn. But given one last nonconference opportunity to shine, the Hogs seized it masterfully by wiping out fourth-ranked Texas Tech at Baum Stadium on Tuesday to get back on the winning track. Although nasty weather prevented the Razorbacks from taking two from the Red Raiders, the one victory — in which reliever Barrett Loseke shook off an uneven season with 4 2/3 innings of perfect, 10-strikeout relief — got Arkansas back in the groove, and the Hogs conclusively showed that by sweeping Alabama to register their third series sweep out of seven league series.

Bama is the bottom-dweller in the West but still a feisty group, and the Hogs had to win all three games in unconventional fashion. The finale on Sunday was an overlong mess of a game — eight Hog pitchers gave out 15 walks, but Bama was oddly punchless even with all the available runs to score — and Dominic Fletcher turned a Dylan Duarte fastball inside-out for a three-run homer to give the Hogs a lead they wouldn't relinquish. One weekend, the team looked lost and in peril, but it took about five days to restore confidence in the Diamond Hogs, and they have accordingly made it through 45 games with 32 wins, they're back atop the division, and with LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M remaining on the slate, winning a modest five of nine games would have the Razorbacks staring at a high seed in the conference tournament and an opportunity to firm up that national seed they've coveted.

They will have to address two pitching woes: Campbell's aforementioned issues and Matt Cronin's apparent bout with mononucleosis, which robs the Hogs of their shutdown closer for the foreseeable future. If he can recover in time for the postseason, he's still going to need opportunities to regain strength and shake off rust, and that's not a luxury that presents itself in May. However, Loseke's recent emergence earned him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors, and he's got the lively stuff that can bedevil a bunch of fastball yankers like those that are all over top-ranked Florida's lineup.

Arkansas has arguably its most well-equipped team for postseason success, as we've documented here before, because the lineup is loaded with experienced, disciplined hitters and young, fearless upstarts while the pitching staff is incredibly deep. There's also the sting of last year's Regional loss to Missouri State still lingering in the memory banks of the coaches and most of the roster, and it should help motivate this group to flourish in May rather than flounder.

(This Pearls is dedicated to the memory of David McCollum, a quiet giant among sportswriters in Arkansas for decades who died Monday afternoon. This moonlighting columnist learned much under David's tutelage in many years of toiling at the Log Cabin Democrat, but mostly he valued him as a mentor and friend for years. Godspeed, D-Mac, and heartfelt condolences to Beverly and Gavin.)

A Q&A with Low Key Arts' Sonny Kay

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

How the penny dropped.

Visual artist, founder of the Gold Standard Laboratories record label, frontman for punk rock outfits Angel Hair and The VSS and now, executive director of Hot Springs' Low Key Arts, Sonny Kay's DIY approach to new projects is a part of upbringing: He credits an unconventional childhood, moving around the world with a father pursuing a career as a film director and a mother who knew how to adapt quickly in new surroundings. After many years in Las Vegas (and before that, Los Angeles), working on graphic design and visual art projects, a job popped up "out of left field" at a small arts organization called Low Key Arts in Hot Springs National Park in the middle of Arkansas. And Kay leapt.

Here's an excerpt from a conversation I had with Kay earlier this year:

What drew you into taking the Low Key Arts executive director position?

I spent 14 years running a record label, which was definitely an exercise in orchestrating lots of people and lots of things, having a whole bunch of stuff going on at once all the time, and just being in a hive of activity. Then I spent the next 10 years freelancing — basically, being at home doing art by myself. There was definitely an element of group-project-aspect of something like Low Key Arts that was missing.

I definitely felt a little isolated. I'd managed to publish a book of my art. It wasn't that it wasn't fulfilling or rewarding in its own way, but I missed being at the center of a lot of energy and excitement. Sometimes the best you can do is listen to yourself, and this is a good example. I was definitely at a crossroads for a period of years, and wasn't sure which way to go.

This came up, and it was like, "Oh, yeah, that could be really incredible," and so I set caution aside and just did it.

Throughout your life, you've been at the center of making things happen. What draws you in?

I think a big part of it is having parents that were similar, especially my mom. My mom is a very practical and pragmatic person, and was always an excellent example throughout my life growing up. We moved around a lot when I was young, and were never all that financially secure, so experiencing her reaction to that and her willingness to adapt to these different situations and her motivation and her willingness to keep expanding her definition of herself was amazing. I didn't realize it at the time, but as an adult I'm very proud of her and I feel like more than any single person in my life she's been a huge influence for me and a role model.

I find taking the initiative and just being willing to redefine yourself really compelling. There's some aspect of me that is also a bit of a control freak that likes being at the helm and feeling like I'm a motivator for other people. I'm a naturally creative person and I feel like sometimes that's best suited to a singular endeavor — like making art — and sometimes it's more useful in the world to collaborate with other people. I feel as though I'm at my best when I'm firing on all cylinders and at the center of something that's creating a positive change around me.

Describe what your childhood was like a little more. Was there a seed that really sparked your DIY ethos?

My parents were an unusual couple in the sense that my dad was twice as old as my mom. He was American and my mom was English. Basically, a month after they were married, they were pursuing his career as it took these strange turns around the globe. My dad was a film director and the constant moving was a result of that. His career, at that point, had apexed and things were declining for him.

My mom was young and slightly naive and a little bit swept off her feet, thrilled about traveling to all these exotic places. There were a couple of situations where we'd land in these places and everything fell apart, to where we had to struggle to figure out what to do next. So that was the reality I was born into. The improvised energy that came with that I think at this point is in my DNA.

When I was about 15 or 16 and living in Colorado, my grandfather came over from England to visit us at Christmas. I asked him to bring me a bunch of records from England that were difficult to find at the time — this would have been around 1987. He showed up with this fistful of Joy Division and Cure records I'd asked for.

One day I was poring over these records, rambling on about these groups and he stopped me and asked "Why don't you start your own group?" Honestly, the idea had never occured to me. He said something like, "Why be content to be a follower?" At the time, I thought I knew everything — and, you know, when you're a teenager you rebel against everything, even your wise old grandfather speaking the truth of the universe to you.

At the time, I disregarded what he was saying, but there's something about that that planted a kernel of something in my mind. It really took him saying that to me for me to start to embrace the idea of DIY and involving myself in what — up to that point — I'd only been a fan or bystander of. Even though there were a thousand examples of teenagers starting bands and putting out records, it took a man in his 70s to say that to me for the penny to drop.

You'll take on music programming for the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival. What are you excited about?

I'm still absorbing all this information and mapping it out in my mind. I'm fascinated to see it go from point A to point B to point C. I feel a little bit like an anthropologist in this situation where I'm a newcomer experiencing something that's a cultural staple in that area. And I've been tasked with not necessarily improving it, but growing it and diversifying it, developing it, so I want to see where it's at before I can take any practical measures to do any of those things.

Unfruitful labor

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

When 6-year-olds in Arkansas blow out their birthday candles, they might wish for a new toy or a family pet. Thanks to proposed changes to SNAP benefits, their parents might soon wish for a miracle just to keep food on the table.

When 6-year-olds in Arkansas blow out their birthday candles, they might wish for a new toy or a family pet. Thanks to proposed changes to SNAP benefits, their parents might soon wish for a miracle just to keep food on the table.

Congress is considering new work requirements that would make it even harder for parents to continue qualifying for SNAP (or "food stamps"). Under the proposal, after their kids turn 6, parents who work low-wage, seasonal or part-time jobs could lose the benefit that helps pay for groceries. These work requirements would hurt many families who already have jobs.

Here's the gist of the new rule: If you are an adult raising a child older than 6, you now must prove that you're working at least 20 hours a week or in a training program (unless disabled or elderly). You must report that you have met that requirement every month. There is no rollover.

Parents who go through a short period where work isn't available will be out of luck even if they work 20 hours a week on average. One in four workers on SNAP who meet the work requirements overall throughout the year could still lose eligibility.

For a part-time working parent making ends meet with SNAP, a minor schedule change at the end of the month could disqualify them at a time when their paycheck is smallest. And if you don't meet the requirements one month, you could lose benefits for the entire year unless the circumstances of your job change. A second missed requirement could make you ineligible for up to three years.

The proposal essentially demands that low-wage parents get what many can only dream of — predictable work schedules. If you want people in Arkansas to have stable work hours, you should tell their employers.

About half of early-career employees get a week or less notice for shift schedules. It is common for retailers to give just a day or two of notice for a schedule change. Most early-career adults who work hourly jobs have hours that fluctuate 50 percent on average from month to month.

Industries like retail, service and food preparation are notorious for unpredictable scheduling, and they employ many low-wage Arkansans. Hospitality and retail have made up more than a third of non-farm employment growth in Arkansas since 2010.

So yes, many of these workers would love to have more hours every week. They would love to be able to count on a consistent paycheck. But requiring workers to have better, more consistent hours doesn't make those jobs magically appear.

Threatening to take away grocery assistance won't make parents be suddenly able to control their work schedules or remove other barriers to work.

What is keeping Arkansas families from working? It starts with a lack of affordable childcare, thanks to underfunded pre-K programs and the fact that, nationally, 94 percent of low-wage workers have zero access to paid family leave. Low educational attainment and transportation issues also play a huge role, and certain areas of Arkansas still have higher than average unemployment because of a lack of good jobs. Work requirements themselves can even be a barrier to work. Parents often miss days of work to comply with in-person visits that are tied to work requirements in certain programs.

This plan's "job training" alternatives are an underfunded, untested, virtually meaningless bureaucratic pretense for these harsh rules. The truth is that these changes save money by taking food away from low-income kids and families who need it. The changes would cut or reduce benefits to over a million low-income households nationwide, including those with children.

SNAP is one of the most important public health programs in the nation. It helps children and adults avoid costly medical care and improves the their children's chances to graduate from high school. Consistent and reliable access to food takes some of the pressure off families and helps parents show up to work and keep their jobs. We should be making it easier, not harder, for every family to have access to healthy, nutritious food. There are 130,000 school-aged children in Arkansas who currently rely on SNAP. If their parents don't have the right kind of job, work-requirements could threaten their access to food immediately or upon their next birthday.

This isn't the only problem with the new SNAP rules being considered, but it is one that directly hurts children in our state. These rules are part of the Farm Bill, a version of which passed the House Agriculture Committee on April 18. The Senate will work on its version in the coming months.

Eleanor Wheeler is a senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Pray for the poor

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Praying for the poor was always a harmless offense in the halls of government, as long as you never insinuated that leaders should actually help the downtrodden and infirm. But last week, it got a Jesuit priest fired as the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Praying for the poor was always a harmless offense in the halls of government, as long as you never insinuated that leaders should actually help the downtrodden and infirm. But last week, it got a Jesuit priest fired as the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Back in December, Father Patrick J. Conroy prayed that, like Jesus, congressmen might consider the poor while they were passing big tax cuts for the well-to-do. Even after a warning from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not to engage in "politics" again, the old chaplain kept mentioning the poor in his brief homilies, as you would expect a man who took a vow of poverty to do. So Ryan gave him the boot.

In the old days, I sometimes heard chaplains in the Arkansas legislature intone a few pious words for "the least fortunate among us," but the lawmakers never read enough into the invocations to take umbrage. Today, I'm not sure a preacher will get a pass for even meekly taking the wrong side in the poverty wars, as Ryan thought the good padre did.

We call things wars with less justification than the disagreements over poverty. Ryan and the other fathers of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 say that starting next year they will trim the giant deficits created by the tax cuts by slashing entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — and poverty programs like food and housing assistance. Now it looks like they won't have the votes to do that next year.

But here in Arkansas they do. Governor Hutchinson will institute big cuts in medical insurance for poor adults this spring by making Medicaid enrollees get on their laptops every two months and prove they are working at least 80 hours a month, engaged in work-related activities or else exempt from the state's new work requirement. If they can't do that, they lose their health care for the year.

Wait: They probably don't have computers or email accounts, wouldn't have a clue about how to use them or to build the evidence needed to keep their insurance, and may not live someplace with easy broadband coverage. The state's answer: This will give them the energy to join the digital society.

The governor and his Department of Human Services chief said the work rule and all the bureaucratic hoops are not intended to punish poor people but just the opposite, to force them to improve their skills, get into the workforce and live happier lives. You have to wonder whether it is naivete or politics. Governor Hutchinson's defenders say he has to look tough by punishing the freeloaders or else the Republican legislature and his party will abandon him. Promising to dump the lazy from the Medicaid rolls helped round up the votes to keep the Medicaid expansion, which has brought hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the economy and pumped up the treasury.

Building a bureaucratic maze that poor and uneducated people must navigate does exactly what it is intended to do. They give up.

The first step, starting three years ago, was to set up a complicated and hasty process to renew your Medicaid coverage. About 59,000 people lost their insurance because they couldn't do it.

Several other states that adopted the Medicaid expansion offered by Obamacare are taking similar steps to make work a requirement to get health insurance, although they seem to me to clearly violate the rules for getting waivers from the Obamacare coverage procedures. The law had one overriding objective — to insure more people, not fewer.

There has always been a popular notion that poverty is willful and that both physical and mental disabilities are usually self-inflicted and thus unforgiveable. They are happy with the bare existence that they can maintain with a little government assistance. Ignorance and unhealthy lifestyles do not earn them much sympathy.

The story is actually much different. A large number of those who can't meet the work requirement have mental or physical disabilities, or both, or else suffer from chronic illnesses that deter them from seeking jobs or employers from hiring them. Disabled people are already covered by Social Security, the state says.

Social Security's definition of disability is so narrow that most of the nonelderly disabled — some 64,000 on the Medicaid rolls — are not eligible for Social Security coverage. People can't just decide they will go to work. Some employer must hire them.

Medical groups like the American Medical Association strenuously opposed the Arkansas rule and others like it.

Legislators cheered the governor's work requirement without a thought to the human beings who would suffer. It was only one of their good works in the 2017-18 sessions. They also passed a statute and a proposed constitutional amendment to discourage poor people from voting in the guise of stopping people from casting the votes of people who don't make it to the polls, and still another constitutional amendment that will limit what ordinary people can get from nursing homes and other providers that harm them or their loved ones through neglect or abuse. They've got the poor on the run.

Home on the range

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Another spring, another catastrophic wildfire season in the high plains. This year it was Oklahoma, where wind-driven flames consumed over 350,000 acres of pasture, killing thousands of cows, destroying barns, homes and fences.

Another spring, another catastrophic wildfire season in the high plains. This year it was Oklahoma, where wind-driven flames consumed over 350,000 acres of pasture, killing thousands of cows, destroying barns, homes and fences. New York Times reporter Mitch Smith described the scene around Vici, Okla. (pop. 699), a ranching community in the western part of the state.

"The fire's timing was especially cruel," Smith explained, "coming in the midst of an extreme drought. Dead cows appear along roadsides, hooves pointed to the sky. Driveways lead to piles of rubble. When the wind blows, it smells a bit like a campfire."

Last year it was Medicine Lodge, Kan. — 400,000 acres ruined, an area larger than metropolitan New York and Chicago combined — and the largest prairie wildfire in Kansas history. Eastern Montana and the Texas panhandle also experienced disastrous blazes in 2017 — a million acres consumed in all.

The Times' Jack Healy described Angus cows "stagger[ing] around like broken toys, unable to see or breathe, their black fur and dark eyes burned, plastic identification tags melted to their ears. Young calves lay dying."

Ranchers spent days shooting their stricken livestock and burying them in mass graves with a backhoe, heartbroken and facing financial ruin.

You can get to love cows when you know them, each with a personality as singular as any domestic animal's. Having once had to shoot a horse to spare him needless suffering, I can't even imagine euthanizing an entire herd.

It's a bitter, hard thing.

Not to mention that every cow that goes into the ground represents a $1,500 to $2,000 loss, and a whole lot of labor. Rebuilding a herd takes years.

"This is our Hurricane Katrina," one Kansas rancher told a Times reporter. Yes, there's insurance money and assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it's often too little and too late. What's worse is that whether or not the region's politicians — in thrall to energy producers and science-denying religious fundamentalists — choose to acknowledge it, global climate change is causing bigger and more frequent prairie wildfires all the time.

Ranchers tend to be fatalistic about the weather. You would be, too. Meanwhile, however, livestock producers are going to extraordinary lengths to help each other. Reporters described great convoys of trucks arriving at the Oklahoma scene last week from all over middle America, laden with tons of free, life-saving hay.

It's a classic American story of ingenuity and self-reliance: powered by social media, word-of-mouth and a region-wide honor system. Reporter Mitch Smith interviewed two brothers named Levi and Blake Smith who loaded a couple of semi-trailers with 64 round bales of hay — each weighing about 1,200 pounds and worth at least $2,000 altogether. The brothers drove 100 miles west and donated the whole load to rancher Rhett Smith, enough to feed his and his neighbors' cows for several weeks until the pastures green up.

Always assuming it rains, that is.

The Smiths are no kin and hadn't previously met. The brothers explained that donated hay saved their ranch after the 2017 fire, and they felt compelled to pay it forward. It's become a tradition throughout the high-plains, along with thousands of volunteer firefighters who drive hundreds of miles and sleep in churches and school gymnasiums to save all they can from the flames.

There's also a fair amount of grumbling about the inefficiency and uselessness of government in such emergencies. Coming from states that have elected Republican politicians who have cut taxes and reduced government services while promising magical economic growth that somehow never materializes, that may strike metropolitan readers as a bit rich.

"The people in this region would vote for Satan himself if there was an 'R' behind his name," wrote one caustic commenter to the Times. "Reality bites."

Smug much?

Having lived in cattle country the last decade, however, I'm inclined to cut the ranchers some slack. When I think Oklahoma, I think Garth Brooks, not Scott Pruitt. Also, it's simply a fact that government can rarely act as efficiently and humanely as the brothers Smith.

Will the hay-donating system always work? Who knows? It's working now. Somebody ought to make a movie.

In my experience, cattle and horse people are an admirable lot. Take my Perry County hay guy, C.J. Gunther. Once a few years back, a terrible drought had Texans driving over to buy Arkansas hay, bidding it up to a rumored $100 a bale. So when I went to settle up for the winter, I braced myself.

How much did I owe him?

Same as last year, he said. $35 a bale. For this, I should add, he loaded my truck and trailer weekly, saving me the expense of a tractor. I said I knew he could easily have sold his high-quality, Bermuda grass hay for a lot more.

C.J. looked a little shocked.

"I reckon so," he said. "But you're my neighbor."

Save The Rep

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Having worked all over the U.S. and, in fact, pretty much all over the world in theater, I can say with some authority that the productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, both those I have been in and those I have seen, are of the highest quality in every artistic aspect: acting, directing, set, costume and light design, etc.

Save The Rep

Having worked all over the U.S. and, in fact, pretty much all over the world in theater, I can say with some authority that the productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, both those I have been in and those I have seen, are of the highest quality in every artistic aspect: acting, directing, set, costume and light design, etc.

The audiences at The Rep have always been enthused, engaged and intelligent in their responses to the work there in which I have been involved.

Having known [Directors] Cliff Baker, Bob Hupp and John Miller-Stephany, I know that all three of those Rep leaders have been actively engaged in providing rich theatrical experiences for the folks who are already Rep supporters, but, as well, all three men have worked diligently to find ways to expand Rep audience membership and to engage the widest possible group of diverse audiences in Little Rock and throughout the state.

The great poet Percy Shelley wrote in the preface to "The Cenci": "The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of drama is the teaching of the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself." I know that The Rep's leadership and staff, past and present, have based their theatrical goals and dreams on such high, worthy and necessary-to-us-all ideals. When that is coupled with a profound desire, carried out with enormous effort, to engage and entertain audiences, as has always been The Rep's mission, the value of The Rep and its multilayered and extraordinary work to the community and to the state cannot be overestimated.

To lose the Arkansas Repertory Theatre would be a terrible blow to Little Rock, to Arkansas and to the theater world at large. I encourage your readers to find tangible ways, and to do so immediately, to help ensure that The Rep weathers these rough fiscal times and comes through this period both artistically and financially sound. We cannot let The Rep disappear. The loss would be irreparable.

Joseph Graves

Beijing, China

From the web

In response to an April 30 Arkansas Blog post on state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson's 2013 Senate Resolution praising a couple who have since been fired in the wake of a kickback scandal at Medicaid recipient Preferred Family Healthcare:

What I find interesting is that when Rusty Cranford, the big dog at the top of all of these schemes, was charged with murder-for-hire in the Medicaid mess, immediately Jeremy Hutchinson decided not to run again for office. As it turns out, Hutchinson is Cranford's divorce attorney. Having observed the [kickback] Ecclesia trial [of former Sen. Jon Woods] closely, I surmise it is small potatoes compared to the upcoming Medicaid trials. I think many of the same players will be found here as were involved with Ecclesia. I hope this time they are all charged and paraded in court for everyone to see. And, what part did the governor play in all this? At least he is guilty of ignoring the involvement of his family members. At most, he knows more than we have heard. I hope that the end result is that we have a massive house cleaning in our legislature. We can start that process by voting in the Republican primary May 22, whether we are Republicans or not. People like Bob Ballinger, who gave his GIF funds to Ecclesia, can only be defeated in that primary. Wrong is wrong, no matter what flavor it is.


In response to an April 30 Arkansas Blog post about an $80,000 wire transfer in 2014 from nursing home executive David Norsworthy to former state Sen. Jake Files a week before Files proposed a constitutional amendment to limit damages in civil lawsuits. That proposal failed, but a similar amendment was approved in 2017 for the general election ballot:

Why does Governor Hutchinson want to harm the elderly in nursing homes?

I am voting NO on ballot issue 1 (SJR8) because it is harmful to people.

Why did Governor Hutchinson appoint Norsworthy to the board of the nursing home lobby (AHCA)?

The crazy state legislators want to pass laws that could kill me and then they think they deserve a raise in their salary?

NO raise until we vote some human, ethical government officials into office.

Thank you, Arkansas Times, for unraveling this convoluted story about General Improvement Funds, Files, Morton, and Arkansas Health Care Association (Morton's nursing home lobby and ballot Issue 1). I would never be able to organize this info.


In response to the April 18 Arkansas Blog post "Sen. Trent Garner continues to grandstand, again calls for impeachment of Judge Wendell Griffen":

Judicial activism is purely in the eye of the beholder. If you like what the judge is doing, it's judicial restraint. If you don't, it's judicial activism. My thoughts about [Griffen's ruling on the] comfort dog is that permitting it is judicial vouching for the witness in violation of Ark. Constitution, Article 7, Section 23. It's also prosecution vouching, which violates legal ethics and the rules of decorum.


In response to the April 28 Arkansas Blog post of the death of black theologian James H. Cone:

James Cone was a brilliant theologian. All of Arkansas should be proud of him as a native son — although I'm sure there are many who are not.

I think in terms of having an inordinate positive impact on the world, through our history we Arkansans have "swung above our weight."


Dr. James Cone cut, blazed, paved and illuminated a radical and redeeming body of knowledge about the religion of Jesus based on his disciplined study and devotion to Jesus as a black theologian. Thanks to him, theologians now cannot dismiss black liberation theology. Instead, black liberation theology challenges dominationist, imperialist, capitalist, racist, sexist and white nationalist perspectives on the religion of Jesus. We who have studied and been blessed to know Dr. Cone will forever be grateful for his influence, unflinching commitment to continued study, and his unapologetic blackness! A prophet was among us. We have been put on notice.


In response to state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's boast that she'd joined a 20-state coalition of Republican attorneys general seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act:

Ms. Rutledge has spent her entire career as AG filing out-of-state lawsuits. Has she actually ever done anything to help the citizens of Arkansas? Has she fought for any cause that benefits the interest of Arkansas citizens as opposed to other states? The answer would be no. Her real claim to fame is being notorious for declining titles for proposed amendments with dubious claims and vague suggestions for improvement. I can only hope we will have a qualified candidate to run against her and win.


Commenting on the Times' slideshow of the installation of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Capitol:

What I cannot understand is why these fundamentalists keep referring to the Ten Commandments?

If they were Orthodox Jews, I'd understand. However, the law of Grace (on which the foundation of Christianity is based) came about when Christ was crucified and resurrected three days later. The Ten Commandments are not even the basis of Christianity, but rather rules given the Jews when they wandered in the desert.

But I guess theology doesn't matter as much as fake religion, in the era of fake news, by fake politicians.



Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

Just across the driveway from the increasingly paint-needy Observatory on Maple Street, there's a rent house that has been a rent house for almost all the long years Yours Truly and Spouse and Junior have lived in Little Rock.

Just across the driveway from the increasingly paint-needy Observatory on Maple Street, there's a rent house that has been a rent house for almost all the long years Yours Truly and Spouse and Junior have lived in Little Rock. When we first moved to Maple, the family who lived there owned the joint outright, but they sold it and decamped to the boonies when Junior was around 4. The man of the house, his youthful six-pack long since multiplied to a keg, was prone to barbecuing shirtless over a burning drum in the yard. Their dog, meanwhile, was equally prone to singing along with great, passionate feeling whenever he heard a distant ambulance siren at UAMS — which was often, at all hours of the day and night. So we can't exactly say we were sad to see them go when they packed their mournful dog and sold out lock, stock and burning barrel.

Though renters get a bad rap, we've been lucky with neighbors, we suppose. No power drinkers or wife-beaters, no screaming arguers or kleptomaniacs, no stealthy midnight peepers that we know of (and God help them if they are, as our own sixer has gone keg as well). About every two years or so, a U-Haul truck appears in the yard to be loaded, followed by another some days or weeks later, laden with household goods, to be trundled inside. Mostly, our neighbors stick to themselves and we are obliged to let them. Even in The Good Ol' Days of porch swings and sweat-varnished, pre-AC Little Rock summers, we suspect it was so then as well. What's that the man said about good fences making good neighbors? When the houses are packed in as tight as they are down here in Stifft Station, sometimes a polite silence unless spoken to is the best fence of all.

There have been times over the years when we have been spoken to and spoken back, of course. Like the folks who shared a beer or two with us before realizing that we're more boring than they are. The nice young man and his equally charming wife who disappeared some weeks after he sat on the steps of The Observatory one spring evening and told us of her miscarriage and his quest to find some cause for it: radon or paint fumes or just the misalignment of the stars. The little neighbor kids who, not privy yet to invisible fences, stood in the yard and quizzed The Observer until our ears nearly dropped off about everything and anything, from our moody cats and equally moody t'weenage Junior to our bicycle and Spouse's car and how a raven is like and unlike a writing desk. The Observer is always happy to talk to the folks who want to talk. We bear more than a little guilt for letting so many occupants of the house next door slip in and out without Yours Truly learning so much as their names.

The new neighbor's name is Andre. We know this because last week, he came over to inquire and commiserate, his entire paycheck, cashed and accidentally left in the center console of his car, having been boosted in the night by the five-finger discounters who seem to haunt Little Rock like a whispering plague, making off with everything that ain't padlocked securely to a fire hydrant or police officer's leg. The Observer, as you know if you've read this column for a while, is no stranger to that feeling. Little Rock is our home, and we love her, we told our new neighbor. But it is a town where people will give you the shirt off their back by day, then come back and steal it by night. Simultaneously a big-hearted, hard-luck town, but one that took in The Observer and our lovely bride and little son many moons back, when we needed safe harbor after adventuring abroad.

Turns out our new neighbors are wanderers as well. They stuck it out in Flint, Mich., as long as they could, he said, as long as the city was delivering water that wouldn't slowly poison his children. When that lead-free lifeline dried up, though, they fled to Little Rock, where his wife's family lives. Turns out she's another Little Rock boomerang baby, just like The Observer.

Andre and Yours Truly both seem determined to break the cold that has hovered between the rent house next door and The Observatory over the years, calling each other by name and offering hearty waves whenever we see each other out and about. It costs nothing, The Observer realizes, and is worth everything. We've already thinking of buying extra beer, in the hopes that this summer, when The Observer and Spouse take to the veranda to watch the bats swoop past the nightwatcher across the way, our neighbor and his lovely wife will drop over for a brew or least a chilly glass of unpoisoned water. We can cuss Trump and gripe about the heat, like proper acquaintances. The Observer can share what little we know of Michigan and Andre can lend us his impressions of Arkansas, and there in the dark, we can just be once strangers united by proximity, now neighbors, our invisible walls breached, watching fireflies in the humid dark, refugees who have found refuge at last.

No collusion

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

A Marvel 'Infinity'

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:00 PM PDT

The umpteenth installment of the Avengers.

The week that "Avengers: Infinity War" dropped was clearly a race to see the movie before the internet ruined it for you. The movie cleared almost a quarter-billion dollars its first weekend, a record, because spoilers were everywhere — on Facebook (even as memes), in conversations, in the air itself, settling on the world like fine volcanic ash. Someone I know literally ran from two dads he heard chatting about the movie at a train station. Another friend mourned when he came across TMI online. "Look, I get it, being online more than 48 hours after an enormous movie opening that's right in my wheelhouse is like skipping blindfolded through a minefield," he tweeted. "Still, it kinda sucks that it happened."

The 19th (or is it 100th?) installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, America's favorite telenovela, is so damn big and so damn dramatic in its stakes that you're going to hear about it eventually, somewhere, from someone. I'm not going to tip anything further here, except to say that while "Black Panther" was the better film, "Infinity War" wins for the most shocking Marvel outing yet. This will be a movie kids talk about in 20 or 30 years the way a certain earlier generation remembers when Optimus Prime died in "Transformers: The Movie." (Ah, heck, 1986 spoiler alert.)

Since 18 other movies and literally dozens of characters have been spiraling toward this moment, it may take a sec to catch up, but here's the big open. Thanos, the supervillanous space titan who's been lurking in these films since "The Avengers" in 2012 (gaaaaah, we're all old) has finally sprung his plan to collect a half-dozen of these macguffins called infinity stones and use them to wield nigh-godlike powers. Josh Brolin plays the giant purple thug; first thing he does out of the gate is out-wrestle the Hulk and whip Thor and Loki, establishing firmly that everyone is screwed.

From there, it's a jumble of plots and pair-offs, in a nearly "Game of Thrones" style: Iron Man, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man go to space together! Vision (and the stone in his forehead) and Scarlet Witch have a big relationship talk in Scotland, then get ambushed by Thanos' goons, only to get bailed out by Captain America! Thor goes in search of a massive space forge with Rocket and Groot, while Drax and Gamora and Mantis chase after the Collector and run into Thanos! Bucky's in Wakanda! If any of that sentence didn't make sense, don't worry, you've got only 10 years of comic book movies to catch up on and Amazon streaming is now a thing.

The usual hosannas apply to "Infinity War," which like its predecessors sets the outer boundary of what you can see on a screen and convince your brain is really happening. The humor keeps things light, despite an incredibly heavy plot that has, at stake, half the beings in the entire universe. The performances are ... hell, who can even tell, really? Brolin likely gets more lines than anyone else — more than any other MCU film, this is a villain's film. He offers a surprising amount of depth and heart (perverse though it is) and becomes, in a sense, the only character who seems to be driving, rather than flinching at, the events in motion. You're not going to understand his mission (as a plot device it's amazing; as a character-driven story, it's a head-scratcher) but there are absolutely stakes, and if this bastard wins, well ... .

Eventually these films are going to have to slim down. There's simply too much noise, too many moving parts, for this to be sustainable as a structure for filmmaking. The good news: The outcome of "Infinity War" ensures that Marvel will be able to focus more on characters, which, ultimately, is why people keep shelling out to see these flicks. Chances are we'll look back at "Infinity War" as a high-water mark of a certain kind of moviemaking, admire it, and count ourselves glad that nothing else since quite matched its scale and ambition. There will be more Marvel movies; with any luck, there will never be another "Infinity War."

Support the Arkansas Times, get free stuff

Posted: 02 May 2018 12:58 PM PDT

Giving you the Arkansas Times takes a lot of time and money. As a free publication, we've relied on our advertisers to keep a great weekly newspaper in print and online. Advertising has sustained the Times for the 44 years we've been in business. But in this financial climate, most advertising dollars are going to Facebook and Google. They alone have sucked up 73 percent of all digital revenue in 2017, according to the research firm Pivotal — and their share of that pie is only growing.

We still matter to advertisers: We sell a significant amount of print and digital advertising. Our many platforms — not just print and web, but podcasts, a daily news video, enewsletters, and social media platforms — remain an outstanding way for businesses to reach new customers. (Learn more at arktimes.com/advertise.) We've also gotten into the events business, hosting, among others, annual margarita and craft beer festivals and bus trips to the King Biscuit Blues Festival.

But now, to sustain our weekly publication and online presence, we need you.

In 2014, we asked readers to bear a share of our costs. We explained that we had become a daily website with a print edition with an editorial staff that spent much of its time working on the website. We told you that we devote considerably more of our budget to our editorial staff than our peers in the weekly press across the country because Times founder and publisher Alan Leveritt has always been mission-driven. We told you we were putting our popular Arkansas Blog behind a metered paywall and asked you to subscribe to it. Around a thousand of you did and that's been a financial boon to us ever since.

But about 350,000 people come to arktimes.com every month. If we're to continue to produce the aggressive journalism you've come to expect from us, we need support from more readers. That's why today, we adjusted our metered paywall. In doing so, we are adopting a strategy that many publications must use to stay in business.

Our paywall now covers all of arktimes.com aside from the homepage. Readers will be able to see three articles or posts for free in a month. But to see more, readers will have to subscribe. The subscription price will not increase: It will remain at $9.99 per month or $110 per year.

We're sweetening the deal for a limited time only. For new annual subscribers or current subscribers who want to extend their subscription by a year, we'll provide a fully loaded pass to cultural events. That includes:

A one-year Arkansas Symphony Orchestra concert membership (one free ticket to every ASO regular season concert), a value of $108.

Six tickets to the Museum of Discovery, a value of $60.

Four tickets to the Little Rock Zoo, a value of $40.

Two tickets to the Arkansas Arts Center's Children's Theatre, a value of $25.

To subscribe to the Arkansas Times and get unfettered access to some of the best reporting and writing in Arkansas, go to my.arktimes.com and choose a plan.

If you're already an annual subscriber, but want to extend for a year and get the free passes, head to my.arktimes.com/user/extend, fill out your info (don't forget to to check the box indicating you want your free passes!) and we'll get them in the mail to you.

Want to purchase a subscription for someone else as a gift? Head over to our gift a subscription page.

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting the Arkansas Times!

Questions? Comments? Write us at arktimes@arktimes.com.

Zoo's cheetah euthanized

Posted: 02 May 2018 12:54 PM PDT

The Little Rock Zoo has euthanized its oldest female cheetah, Zazi, who was ill with kidney disease. A press release from Zoo director Susan Altrui said zoo staff determined her quality of life had significantly declined.

Zazi, who was nearly 17 years old, came to the Zoo in 2012 as the first cheetah in the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost. Her daughter, Maggie, came, too.

The zoo will soon acquire a new member of the world's fastest land animals, the press release said, at the recommendation of the Cheetah Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Thanks to poaching, habitat loss and other ills afflicted during our dangerous Anthropocene, fewer than 8,000 cheetahs survive in the wild. 

A press release is on the jump.

Zoo Saddened at Loss of Eldest Female Cheetah

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (May 2, 2018) – The Little Rock Zoo humanely euthanized its oldest female cheetah, Zazi, last week when Zoo staff determined her quality of life had significantly declined after being diagnosed with advanced kidney disease.

Zazi lived at the Little Rock Zoo since 2012 when she opened the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost with her daughter, Maggie. The pair have occupied the exhibit since. Zoo Director Susan Altrui says the Zoo will soon acquire a new cheetah at the recommendation of the Cheetah Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Full necropsy results will be available soon. Zazi was nearly 17-years-old and was considered quite senior for her species. Maggie, the Zoo's remaining cheetah, is seven. The median life expectancy for cheetahs living in AZA accredited zoos is 11.7 years.

Cheetahs are critically engendered with less than 8,000 surviving in the wild today. The cheetah is a selected program animal of the AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program. The Little Rock Zoo and other partnering AZA zoos work with organizations such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund to save wild cheetahs. The Zoo collects privately raised dollars for CCF programs and has sent keepers to assist at the CCF headquarters in Namibia. CCF founder and Executive Director, Dr. Laurie Marker, visited Little Rock last fall during a public tour of the U.S. where she spoke at the Little Rock Rotary Club and the Zoo.

The Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit www.aza.org.

Little Rock housing study finds linkage between respiratory-related hospital stays and property code violations

Posted: 02 May 2018 11:18 AM PDT

Housing Secretary Ben Carson's visit to Little Rock yesterday provides an opportunity to highlight a recent study into linkages between substandard housing and public health in Little Rock neighborhoods south of I-630.

Arkansas is unique among the states for lacking what's called an implied warranty of habitability — essentially, a legal requirement that landlords provide minimum standards of livability in their units, such as working plumbing and heat. The Arkansas Times has written on the topic many times before. This study, which was funded by grants from several national foundations, attempts to examine the health impacts of "the adoption and enforcement of minimum rental housing standards for low-income and housing insecure individuals and families living in Little Rock."

Here's the full study, which was performed by Arkansas Community Institute and the Central Arkansas Re-Entry (CARE) Coalition in cooperation with the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Perhaps the most striking finding: People hospitalized for a respiratory-related illness at UAMS were twice as likely to rent a property that at some point has been issued a mold-related violation notice from Little Rock's Code Enforcement Division when compared to a control population adjusted for demographic differences.

The city's code enforcement capacities are limited, it notes, and the division is understaffed. Though a city ordinance, "requires inspection of all rental units on a systematic basis, current efforts remain complaint-driven and are estimated to have only reached 8 percent of the total rental housing stock mandated for the five year period between 2012 and 2016. Data show a five-year code enforcement officer vacancy rate of 32.2 percent."

As for the lack of a habitability law, the report notes:
Research has shown that the warranty can and does work to bring needed repairs and improvement to otherwise substandard rental housing. Data suggest, however, that the warranty is underutilized, even in housing markets with a sizable substandard housing stock and that for low-income renters there are considerable barriers to its assertion. The literature is less conclusive regarding the relationship between the implied warranty of habitability and rent rates, a common concern raised by opponents of the warranty

HUD Secretary Ben Carson deflects criticism of proposed rent hikes on visit to Little Rock

Posted: 02 May 2018 10:20 AM PDT

KUAR's Jacob Kauffman has an excellent audio report this morning on U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's visit to Little Rock yesterday. The HUD secretary stopped by Parris Towers, a public housing high rise for seniors on Broadway, as well as Our House, the shelter for working homeless families on Roosevelt Road.

At each site, Carson, whose visit was arranged by Congressman French Hill, was met with protesters who object to the secretary's recently announced proposals to increase rent for many public housing residents and allow local housing authorities to more easily impose work requirements.

Carson's explanation for the protests was that "people generally do not like change." Imposing higher rents and work requirements, he said, were a part of "trying to move from a system where people have been, in a very paternalistic way, told 'You're a victim,' and 'You can't do anything,' and 'There, there, you poor little thing,' to a system where we empower people."

Kauffman interviewed one Parris Towers resident who gave a more straightforward reason for opposing Carson's proposals:
No, I don't like that at all, because … I'm on a fixed income, and a lot of people here are on a fixed income, and we can't afford the rent to go up.
Hill and Carson claimed the proposed rent hikes wouldn't affect the elderly in Parris Towers. Others dispute that.

The progressive-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities wrote recently that while elderly HUD beneficiaries would "see their rents rise more slowly than other households" hit by Carson's proposed changes, they would still end up paying more. In addition to raising rents directly, the secretary also wants to eliminate income deductions for certain households with high out-of-pocket expenses. "About half of these deductions go to elderly and disabled households, nearly all of which would see rent increases from the change," wrote Will Fischer, a policy analyst at the CBPP.

The CBPP says about 45,400 Arkansan households would be affected by Carson's proposal.

Clinton National Airport announces non-stop to Austin, Texas

Posted: 02 May 2018 09:14 AM PDT

Well, it's too late for Arkansans wanting a quick route to the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, but still: Clinton National Airport announced yesterday that Via Air now offers nonstop service to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport every day but Saturday. 

The service is on a 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145. Flights to Austin leave at 10:17 a.m. (arrive 11:41 a.m.); flights from Austin leave 8:30 a.m. (arrive 9:42 a.m.) A quick search found the lowest round-trip fares would be $318.

State tax collections fell in April but year-to-date figures remain above forecast

Posted: 02 May 2018 08:57 AM PDT

Arkansas's monthly revenue report for April shows year-to-date net available general revenue totalled $4.6 billion, which is $152 million above the level reported a year ago.

Collections for April were lower than expected, however, at $16 million below forecast, or -2.3 percent. The year-to-date picture shows net available revenue is now about $54 million above forecast for the current fiscal year.

We're ten months into FY 2018, which ends in June.

Here's the full report from the state Department of Finance and Administration

Third 1-40 stop produces pounds of stashed pot

Posted: 02 May 2018 08:30 AM PDT

If you are illegally transporting carrying pounds and pounds of pot, Interstate 40 through Arkansas may not be the best route to take.

On Monday, April 30, state Highway Police at Alma discovered 340 pounds of marijuana and 2,340 units of cannabis oil with an estimated street value of $2.2 million during a motor carrier safety inspection of a commercial vehicle. Driver Alan Ngo, 4, of Fountain Valley, Calif., was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia and no record-of-duty status and taken to the Crawford County Detention Center.

The find followed the April 22 seizure of more than 232 pounds of marijuana from a truck eastbound on I-40. In that incident, Highway Police gave chase after a truck driver failed to stop at the Alma weigh station. They were able to pull the truck over, finding the stash in trash bags. The driver and his co-driver, identified in press reports as Manuel Crespo, 35, of Homestead, Fla., and Diolexi Ledesma, 35, of Hialeah, Fla., were arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

Neither compared to the March 22 haul of 2,066 pounds of cannabis, worth an estimated $3.3 million on the street, that State Police found in a tractor-trailer eastbound on I-40 near Russellville. Troopers pulled the tractor-trailer over after observing it drift out of its lane. The driver, Robert Moore, 59, said he didn't know what was in the truck, but was jailed after a hearing in Pope County Circuit Court.

Arkansas man found guilty in beating of black man in Charlottesville during white supremacist rally

Posted: 02 May 2018 07:52 AM PDT

The Washington Post reports that Jacob Goodwin, 23, or Ward, was found guilty last night of malicious wounding in the beating of a black man inside a parking garage during the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year.

Goodwin wore a military tactical helmet and had a large shield during the beating of DeAndre Harris by a group of white supremacists. Harris, 20, suffered a spinal injury, broken arm, and head lacerations. Goodwin testified during the trial that he was "terrified" during the assault.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 23. The maximum sentence is 20 years; the jury recommended a sentence of ten years and a $20,000 fine with the option of suspending some of the jail time.

Harris himself was acquitted in March on a misdemeanor assault charge against another one of the white supremacists involved. From the Washington Post:

Just before Harris ran into the garage shortly after 11 a.m. that day, he was standing at its entrance. He saw a fellow counterprotester being speared in the abdomen with a flagpole by Harold Crews, the North Carolina state chairman of the white-nationalist group League of the South. To protect his friend, Harris swung a flashlight, trying to knock the flagpole away.

Seconds after the fight with Crews, Harris rushed inside the parking garage, where he was pummeled.

When Goodwin took the stand, he told the jury he'd seen Harris assault Crews and then saw Harris charging toward him.

"I thought he was a hostile . . . to be honest, I was terrified," Goodwin said, adding that he thought, "I'd probably perish or be sent to the hospital and be terribly hurt."

He said he engaged in self-defense and felt he had only one choice, which was to kick Harris four times while Harris was falling down on the garage floor and scrambling to get back up multiple times.

"I was trying to neutralize a threat," Goodwin said.

For the entire trial, neither the prosecutors nor the defense attorney questioned Goodwin about his affiliation with any white-supremacist groups. Last month, in an NBC documentary featuring interviews with Goodwin and his parents, he says he's a member of a group called the Arkansas ShieldWall Network and that he advocates for "white civil rights."

At the rally, Goodwin wore two pins, one bearing the number 88, a code for "Heil Hitler," and a second with the logo of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white-nationalist group.

During closing arguments, Goodwin's lawyer suddenly raised the issue. "They want you to convict this man because he's white, and DeAndre is a black man," Woodward told the jury, which included two African Americans.

On-line sleuthing led by Shaun King of the Intercept helped lead to Goodwin's arrest, two months after the rally.

Rattlesnake Ridge land west of Pinnacle Mountain to be dedicated as Natural Area

Posted: 02 May 2018 06:38 AM PDT

A 373-acre tract of land known as Rattlesnake Ridge, just west of Pinnacle Mountain, will be dedicated this afternoon as the newest addition to the state's System of Natural Areas.

Rattlesnake Ridge was recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. The area will be managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. According to a press release, the natural area "will protect several rare plant and animal species, and also offer visitors opportunities for rugged, low-impact activities such as hiking, mountain biking and climbing."

Since the acquisition of the Singer Forest Natural Area in 1973, the System of Natural Areas has grown to conserve 73 natural areas across the state.

The dedication today will take place at 2 p.m. (parking is across the street from Pinnacle Mountain State Park on 11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, with shuttle service provided to and from Rattlesnake Ridge beginning at 1 p.m.). On hand will be Governor Hutchinson; Stacy Hurst, Department of Heritage director; Scott Simon, Nature Conservancy of Arkansas director; and Darrell Bowman, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission director.