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Verizon Arena opens a VIP lounge

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 01:44 PM PST

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, Jan. 8, for Legends Lounge in Verizon Arena, a space where people can go to avoid the hoi polloi and drink and eat.

Until tickets go on sale in the morning, we won't know what they'll run. Verizon's news release says the lounge, located to the left of the box office at the main entrance, will include a "premium, full buffet"; domestic beer, wine, sodas and water; a bar serving alcohol, "VIP bathrooms"; large screen televisions and music; and private merchandise shopping.

The lounge will open a half hour before doors open to the general public, and will operate for "most events."

The first show in Verizon's 2019 lineup is Metallica. The press release said nothing about a dress code, so you can probably wear your Metallica "Call of Ktulu" T-shirt when you drop in for a buffet meal. 

Little Rock native soprano Kristin Lewis makes Met debut tonight

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 01:10 PM PST

Renowned lyrico-spinto soprano Kristin Lewis, a Little Rock native who began her voice studies under the tutelage of Dr. Martha Antolik at the University of Central Arkansas, makes her debut at the Metropolitan Opera tonight.

Following the withdrawal of superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky from the Met's production of "Aida," citing personal reasons, the Met engaged Lewis, currently based in Vienna, Austria, to replace Radvanovsky for the opera's January performances.

Lewis performed in Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in 2017, and in 2014 established an annual scholarship competition for young Arkansas vocalists: the Kristin Lewis Foundation.

Here's Lewis singing the role in 2015 at Teatro Regio di Torino.

Monday: Headlines and the open line

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 11:58 AM PST

Monday: The video news roundup and your open line.

MIA on the shutdown: Arkansans in Congress on thousands of federal workers in state

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 11:28 AM PST

The federal government shutdown affects more than Democratic-leaning voters in the Washington area. You'd think we'd have heard at least some sympathetic noises from the Arkansas congressional delegation by now.

But come to think of it, the likes of Rep. French Hill and Sen. Tom Cotton are not known for their empathy.

In any case, here's the Washington Post rundown on federal workers nationwide harmed by the shutdown. There are ancillary sufferers, too, on the rolls of those seeking federal assistance and tax refunds, hoping to clear security lines in airports, find clean toilets in national parks and other endeavors in which we depend on government help.

In Arkansas, says the post, these are the top three agencies affected and the number of employees:

Agriculture 1,700
Health and Human Services (FDA) 400
Justice 400

PS: A reader notes an NPR story that reports the shutdown figures don't include 4 million workers employed nationwide as contract employees. Many of them, too, undoubtedly work in Arkansas.

Central Arkansas Astronomical Society: five sky events to look for in 2019

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 09:56 AM PST

The Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, founded in 1971, cites part of its mission as "bringing the reality of the universe closer to the general public." To do that, CAAS hosts monthly star parties at Pinnacle Mountain or Woolly Hollow State Park, operates the River Ridge Observatory near Lake Maumelle and generally educates visitors about how cool the sky is — and how light pollution can muck things up royally for stargazers and ecosystems everywhere.

So, as you're spending your post-New Year days pondering ways to live the examined life, consider turning your gaze upward for a few nights (or early mornings) this year. Here are a few planetary and lunar phenomena to look for, courtesy of CAAS Outreach Coordinator Darrell Heath. And, thanks to a newly expanded telescope lending program at Central Arkansas Library System's local branches, your eyes can get an assist when they need one; just ask your local librarian how to check out a telescope.

1. Jan. 20 marks a total lunar eclipse. It officially gets under way here in Arkansas at around 8:36 p.m., but don't expect to see much until around 9:33 p.m. That's when the moon will look like it's had a bite taken out of it. Totality occurs at 10:41 p.m. and is at maximum by 11:12 p.m. During the 62 minutes leading up to totality, the moon will slowly change color from dark orange to a rusty red. This is because the light from the sun is getting filtered by the Earth's atmosphere before it reaches the moon, and our atmosphere tends to absorb and scatter the bluer portions of sunlight while letting the red hues pass on through. By 11:43 p.m., totality is over and the moon starts to slowly move out from the Earth's shadow.

2. On Jan. 22, get up early in the morning and face southeast to see a close pairing of Venus and Jupiter. Of course these kinds of pairings are a line of sight optical illusion, these two planets are not even remotely this close out in space, it just looks that way from here on Earth. We call these kinds of pairings "conjunctions." On the morning of Jan. 31, look for a conjunction between Venus and Jupiter that now includes a crescent moon. These kinds of events don't have any kind of significance to them, but they are darn pretty to look at.

3. The word "planet" comes from an Ancient Greek word that meant "wanderer." In those days, no one could explain why certain bright stars moved around on the sky relative to all the other "fixed" stars. But those of us alive today can explain it: Those wanderers are not stars, they are other worlds just like the Earth. And, like us, they are orbiting around a central star, the Sun. But all the planets move around the Sun at different speeds. The inner planets move more quickly than do the outer planets. It's this orbital motion around the Sun that makes them appear to wander relative to the stars. For example, around March 31, grab your binoculars, go outside and face west at 8 p.m., where you'll see Mars just to the left of the lovely star cluster known as the Pleiades, or the "Seven Sisters." A few nights later, on April 8, look again and you'll see that the crescent moon has now joined the scene. The night sky is always changing due to the Earth rotating upon its axis and because the Earth, moon and planets are all, ultimately orbiting the Sun. This is one way you can see the results of all this motion from your own backyard.

4. On Nov. 11, if you have a telescope outfitted with solar safe filters, you can see the planet Mercury moving in between our line of sight to the Sun. The event is going on as the Sun rises, but Mercury does not creep into the Sun's center until around 9:20 a.m. Look for an announcement from CAAS as the date approaches to see when and where we might have telescopes set up for viewing. Whenever Mercury or Venus moves in between our line of sight to the Sun, we call it a "transit," and they are not very common. We won't see Mercury do this again until the year 2032.

5. Closing out 2019, we will see another beautiful conjunction in our evening sky when the crescent moon pairs up with the "evening star," the planet Venus. If you are a creative photographer, this would be a good opportunity to see if you can combine this celestial light show with that of some earthly, festive holiday lights.

To find out more about who CAAS is and what they do, go to caasastro.org.

Will Trice wants to provide Rep audiences with a ‘great night out’

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 09:18 AM PST

In a return to his Central Arkansas roots, Will Trice will helm the revival of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre as executive artistic director, a newly created position that Trice says combines his business and consulting experience with his celebrated career as a Broadway producer.

Trice's producing work has won him three Tony Awards and five nominations — including awards for "All The Way," starring Bryan Cranston; the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"; and "Porgy and Bess," starring Audra McDonald. Speaking from his current home base in New York, Trice told us in a phone interview last week that this new position at The Rep is a combination of responsibilities for which he's uniquely suited.

"A lot of arts organizations have this sort of dual leadership model where there's an artistic director and then there's an executive director or a manager director," Trice said. "I think for a lot of organizations, that makes sense, especially if they're very large, but I think that model does present some difficulties because it's always a conversation between the creative and the financial. If an organization is of a size that can accommodate a single person in that role, I think it actually helps for that thinking to be completely unified. It's almost exactly like what I do now as a producer."

Trice also said that artistic directors at other theaters often direct productions themselves, but since that's not a foreseeable part of his purview, he'll be able to take on managerial aspects as well.

As a Little Rock native, Trice said he's looking forward to this move to his hometown, as it will allow him to "regularly see folks I would normally see every other holiday or something like that," he said. "Some of my favorite folks in the world are there."

The beginnings of Trice's theater career can be traced back to Central Arkansas, specifically to The Rep's stage, where he appeared in 1994 as part of a production of Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers."

"It is where I learned about professional theater and almost [about] what it meant to be professional in anything," he said. "It's cheesy to say it feels destined, but there's something lovely and poetic about it, but at the same time completely unexpected."

Trice said this new position was developed after he initially reached out to The Rep during its suspension of operations last April.

"[I was] just sort of offering up help in any way, as a thought partner to Cliff [Baker] and to Ruth Shepherd, [but] very general, like, 'Is there anything I can do to help?' Like everyone in the community, I didn't want to see the institution go down. As those conversations continued, they morphed into discussing something long term. So it sort of happened organically."

Trice said he's been consulting with The Rep's board for the past few weeks, and while he was hesitant to share specifics on his guiding principles for the theater, he did reveal a new mantra at the heart of his goals for the revival. "I will say that on a very fundamental level, it's about a great night out and providing people with a really entertaining evening, which can take a lot of shapes," he said. "Those experiences can look very different, but the fundamental is a great reason to get out of the house."

Trice is slated to assume his role at The Rep in August, and said he and his husband, John Pettengill, are currently house hunting. Trice's initial goals, he said, will be to establish relationships with audiences and the community.

"In the first six months, it's about tackling my learning curve and building relationships with the staff, the board, the supporters and the audiences, getting to know the audiences a little bit better," he said. "Yes, I spent the first 18 years of my life there, but that was 20 something years ago. It's a lot of the same people, but it's a lot of new people, and so finding out who they are and what they like and what they might like. That all takes time to learn. And establishing a lot of those relationships, like with the other arts leaders and community leaders in town, that's the biggest goal initially."

When asked if one of those relationships may potentially be with the Arkansas Cinema Society, which was founded by Little Rock-born filmmaker Jeff Nichols, a friend of Trice's, Trice wasn't specific, but said he's looking forward to partnerships of all kinds.

"I hope The Rep partners in some way or another with every arts organization that's in town," he said. "I would say that I certainly see that as being part of my mission. Who knows what those partnerships look like at this point? But our town is too small, with such great, large arts organizations, for us not to all be in it together somehow. A lot of times, the most unlikely of those partnerships can wind up producing the coolest events."

Trice said he and his husband are ready for a new chapter after living in New York for the past 15 years, and while they've been talking about a move back to the South for a while, he couldn't have predicted that this is how it would take place.

"Life's funny that way," he said. "In retrospect, it looks like it was all planned out and completely obvious, and in real time, in actuality, it was lovely and random."

Bread and Roses Cooperative opening on Markham in January

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 08:45 AM PST

Fourteen Little Rock artisans — makers of paper and soaps; bread, jams and jellies; artwork and crafts; and more — are working to open Little Rock's first worker-owned store, cafe and community arts center this month at 2909 W. Markham St., in Stifft Station.

The Bread and Roses Cooperative
— named for a 1912 strike by immigrant textile workers in Massachusetts who adopted the slogan "The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too" — was conceived by several Little Rock community organizers and artists. When the 1,000-square-foot storefront, formerly Forever Yours Tattoo, became available for lease by Graham's Property Management and Real Estate Co., the idea became reality.

"A bunch of people in the community started getting upset because we don't need another lame boutique," said co-op member Kenny Grand, 34, who is helping with logistics and recruitment for the co-op. "So, I was like, why don't we take it over and make it into a community space?" After the space became available, Grand sent out a Facebook invitation to a wider community of artists to discuss starting a co-op. His vision resonated with many artisans, including Larissa Gudino, 29, who makes teas, journaling books and other paper crafts. Gudino said she'd envisioned creating a community art space with childcare and afterschool programs, and when she received Grand's invite, she realized these ideas could meet in one place.

"This could be the same idea, all the things could happen in the same spot," Gudino said. "And it would be better for everything to be happening in one spot because it would be more likely to survive."

In 2016, Grand helped found the Little Fox Foods Co-op, which was run out of the Meadowcreek Rural Enterprise Incubator in North Arkansas. That venture has since ended; Grand said he's hopeful Bread and Roses will be able to achieve more longevity.

A worker-owned cooperative is a business in which no one person or entity has sole controlling interest in the company. Each co-owner gets one share of and one vote for the control of the business. Rental pay for the space is divided among the co-op's members, and wages are distributed according to how many hours an individual member works during the pay period. Grand said the cooperative financial arrangement allows people who want to start a business to "socialize the risk" of starting up.

Other co-op members include Levi Coffman, who does leatherworking; Kennedy Djimpe, who currently runs Bread and Roses' social media and who also wants to be involved in childcare programming with an emphasis on music; Elliot Nowlin, who will be contributing to zine making, community organizing and food prep; and Madere Toure, an artist who said he wants to help plan shows for other artists in the space.

Grand said the cooperative plans to work with the New South Produce Cooperative in North Little Rock as a source of milk, eggs and cheese that Bread and Roses will sell along with baked goods and other items. Plans also call for readings, gallery showings and other public uses of the space. Grand said the co-op also hopes to make good on Gudino's idea to provide childcare both for its members and patrons while they visit the business.

Bread and Roses' members will prepare baked goods off-site in commercial kitchens. Stainless steel countertops and industrial refrigerators have been donated to the cooperative, as has a hot dog cart, a gift from the Islamic Center for Human Excellence on Wright Street, according to Grand. The co-op has also set up a GoFundMe page. Construction is being done by members of the co-op.

The main difference between working for a cooperative and working for oneself "is we realize we're all the boss," Grand said. "There's not a designated investor person who's like, 'My old man had the cash for it,' or 'I had the idea and labored on this, so no matter how much work I continue to put into this, I still get the lion's share.' That kind of cripples it. The failure rate of new orthodox businesses is in the 80 to 90 percent range, and the failure rate of cooperatives is in the 60 percent range, and that 30 percent differential is because you look at it more as whole. There's more adaptability."

Bread and Roses Cooperative is also establishing itself as a place of inclusivity, a cafe that welcomes all comers. "This is an explicitly trans-positive space, this is an explicitly queer-positive space, this is an explicitly black-lives-matter space, this is an explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-Muslim space," co-op member Caitlin Roberts of Little Rock, 36, a former nurse who now homeschools her children and makes soaps and breads, said. "The idea of relying on community to meet ends has never been a stranger to the black community, it's never been a stranger to the queer community."

"It's never been a stranger to the working-class rural community," Grand added.

"These are the people who already all know the benefit of alternative power structures and community cooperation because that's the only way we've survived," Roberts said.

Hampton Roy, 25, a local historian and co-op member who plans to help with food prep and educational workshops, also said the reliance on community will be key to the success of Bread and Roses. "Our coordination has been extremely on point," he said. "That's part of that community. We're all greater than the sum of our parts. You see a niche in the community, you step in, you make your effort."

"The way that it's growing is [it's] not just one person accumulating something, it's horizontal and enfolding," Roberts said.

Bread and Roses intends to fill a niche in the Little Rock community, one that local artists, bakers, musicians, contractors and members of the working class have long needed. "We're looking for dignity, respect [and] self-determination," Grand said.

For more information about the Bread and Roses Cooperative and updates on the space's hours and official opening date, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/breadandrosescooperative.

SWEPCO looking for more wind energy

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 07:22 AM PST

Southwestern Electric Power Company, which serves many customers in Arkansas, issued a release today saying it was asking for proposals to provide 1,200 megawatts of additional wind-generated energy by the end of 2021.

Said the release:

"SWEPCO continues to see strong customer interest in more renewable energy to meet their sustainability and renewable energy goals," said Malcolm Smoak, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. "At the same time, SWEPCO is seeking proposals that will save customers money and further diversify our energy resource mix." 

The projects must be in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas or Oklahoma.

SWEPCO is part of American Electric Power, once the biggest burner of coal in the country. Times are changing, even if Arkansas politicians, the business lobby and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge seem determined to cling to the polluting past, be it from burning coal or petroleum products.

China is moving heavily to electric vehicles. I just read that a third of all cars sold in Norway last year were zero-emission and almost half are fully electric or hybrids. Arkansas will lumber along behind the curve, most likely, but as a new owner of an electric car I am happy to report that the number of charging points here is growing.

Want to get 'primal'? Grab your axe and head to Bentonville

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 05:23 AM PST

40/29 brightens my morning with a report that the state's first axe-throwing facility, the Urban Forest Axe House, has opened in Bentonville.

"It's a place to come and be primal and unplug from all the notifications and screens and things that are consuming our lives," said Bryce Paden, one of the co-founders of Urban Forest Ace House. "And you get to throw axes at wooden targets, it's one of the best things ever."

The concept is simple - grab your family or friends, pick up an axe, and throw it from behind the line. Urban Forest Axe House has nine lanes to accommodate anyone 13 years or older. They must wear closed-toe shoes to participate.

Are Trump supporters in Arkansas bothered by the Syria reversal?

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 05:16 AM PST

Is anybody in the Trump majority in Arkansas troubled by the lack of dependability in White House leadership? I refer today to Syria. (Serial dishonesty about border issues should give them pause, too, but that seems a lost cause.)

Re Syria:

* DEC. 19 (CNN):

President Donald Trump has ordered staff to execute the "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of US military from Syria, declaring that the US has defeated ISIS.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. Planning for the pullout is already underway, a US defense official and an administration official told CNN.
They're all coming back, and they're coming back now."

* Jan. 6 (NY Times):

President Trump's national security adviser, John R. Bolton, rolled back on Sunday Mr. Trump's decision to rapidly withdraw from Syria, laying out conditions for a pullout that could leave American forces there for months or even years.
I don't know from Syria.

But who's in charge?

We are supposed to believe what Trump says about The Wall, the government shutdown, anything?

UPDATE: Trump's cover this morning on Twitter:

The Failing New York Times has knowingly written a very inaccurate story on my intentions on Syria. No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary.

The Sunday open line

Posted: 06 Jan 2019 03:12 PM PST

Got anything?