Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Money well spent
Some cynical people who are not loyal to our valued athletic traditions question our current culture's curious emphasis on athletics — particularly in colleges. They claim there's an imbalance between academics and athletics that is demonstrated in various ways, but none as dramatically as in money matters.
Even if they were correct, there is evidence that the operating budget pendulum is swinging in favor of academia. The University of Arkansas recently hired a new chancellor for the Fayetteville campus — the CEO. In a fit of exuberance, even if fiscal irresponsibility, the Board of Trustees agreed to pay the new head of the campus almost as much as some of the assistant football coaches make.
Further evidence of this momentum in favor of academia is a more equitable balance of capital expenditures. The university will issue $160 million in construction bonds. The proceeds will increase seating — in the end zone — for the football stadium. This fine facility, which was expanded in recent years, is frequently filled in the six afternoons that it is used each year. This large sports investment, however, is balanced by the pending issuance of $30 million of bonds with proceeds divided among various academic facilities and programs. That's about 5:1 — a reasonable ratio. So, the complainers don't really have much to gripe about. Fair's fair. We must keep our priorities straight.
Go Hogs, go!
When we talk about health care
There is some talk of a group of self-absorbed and wholly self-interested people getting together this month at the Capitol under the umbrella of being a "legislature" and tinkering with the lives of Arkansas residents. One of the themes of their tinkering is encompassed in the broad and ill-defined phrase "health care." In its current configuration, the phrase "health care" almost always means you are talking about paying somebody other than an actual health care provider to pay the people who claim to be health care providers. We call that "health care insurance" in a feeble attempt to avoid facing the real prospect that we all get sick and we all need care. The self-absorbed people getting together this week will trivialize the notion of care by using sterilized terms such as "beneficiaries," "providers" and "benefits." That allows them to dig the denial hole deeper so no one has to face the real-life fact that all of us require actual care, health and otherwise, from the moment of birth until we die. They will bluster mightily about how we are all just self-sufficient engines driving some imaginary economy rather than being the actual poor, needy and care-dependent beings we, in fact, are.
Our local bastion of health care provider education, we'll call them the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) as a kindness, has told some of the aforementioned self-absorbed people that they will be overwhelmed financially by "indigent care" if they don't get a heaping pile of dough out of this tinkering. Again, we have to be careful not to speak directly about the real "care" problem and focus on the "indigent" part. The reality they will not deal with is that we are all indigent when it comes to paying for health care. The only ones who are not indigent are the people we pay to pay the health care providers for us, that is, the insurance companies. No one will ask the insurance companies to chip in a small percentage more of their gigantic haul of our money to help provide actual care of any kind.
Perhaps strangest of all, this meeting of tinkerers will be seen not as an opportunity to meet some real need of Arkansas residents. Rather, it will be viewed as a contest of some useless imaginary skills imputed to the self-absorbed people doing the tinkering and whatever befalls us will be secondary to who wins or loses the contest. No one will ask: Where did we go wrong? If someone did, what would be an honest answer?
From the web
In response to Will Stephenson's cover story last week, "The ballad of Fred and Yoko":
Devastating. Every preacher in Little Rock should have to read this and deliver a sermon on it. I wonder what they'd say?
What an amazing life and lonely death. I work with others to provide outreach and assistance to people in the Little Rock and North Little Rock area who do not have homes. The people we serve are a diverse group of people with a wide variety of experiences, hopes and challenges, as is true for all of us. There are never enough resources to provide the comprehensive health, housing and supportive services needed, but some progress has been made locally in recent years, including a day resource center, veterans' center and other expanded services and improved efforts. Fred Arnold's story should, indeed, be read from every pulpit, at every civic group luncheon, by every provider of services to vulnerable people. We, as a society, must acknowledge our failures as well as our successes. The notes he sent show just how badly we failed Fred Arnold. May he rest in peace.
The churches fell down on the job, didn't they? A prime example of why charities can't be our only way to help others in their time of need.
Well done story.
Great piece of journalism, Will! Heartbreaking in the end as it was, all those wonderful eccentric characters could populate several Charles Portis novels.
I think there really is an afterlife somewhere where Fred and John hang out together, playing and writing music, counting down the days until Yoko will join them. I imagine that all this came as a delightful surprise to John after he died. He wasn't really expecting it, of course. No doubt, George comes around every now and then, but he stays mainly over in the Hindu territories of East Heaven, practicing his sitar. And you, Will. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. You're a good man. I can tell it from your writing.
In Arkansas, only in the Arkansas Times would we find such an interesting and human story. It makes one wonder how many others among the homeless people that we pass by without giving much attention have equally fascinating back stories. Despite all the efforts of his friends to help, he could not be helped.
As a longtime/long ago Charleston friend/Beatles fan/record store customer of Billy's (i.e. Fred Arnold), I was very moved by your beautifully written story, Will.
I had completely lost touch with the man by the late '70s and was dismayed to read how badly south his life had gone since, no matter how much he may have contributed to it himself. Appalling to see how little assistance he received from most of the Little Rock community, particularly those who espouse their Christian values — Christian when convenient, apparently. A salute to Pastor Marty Mote, however, for being there for Billy when he could.
Billy was quite the character in '70s Charleston society, and became a colorful counterpoint to a lot of what conservative Charleston was then all about.
Thanks again for the story, Will. I look forward to reading more of your work down the line.
How fascinating! It was such a sweet surprise to hear about his relationship with Yoko and how kind she was to him. I wonder if his collection ended up in a dumpster or if someone is still holding onto it. Great story with a local connection.
Joni Davis McGaha
One of the most brilliant pieces of journalism I have encountered in years. Bravo, Will!
In response to Gene Lyons' column last week, "Obama's success":
Seems nice that unemployment is down, except when you realize how many people are not employed, are under-employed and how job creation has taken a step backwards.
Bonds suck, since confidence in the government is tanked, so stocks are higher, which could lead to more sudden volatility and less stability.
Obama had no choice about Syria, since he squandered a coalition that turned its back on him when he finally did decide to try something. Obama wasn't active, he was hapless to those events. Hardly leadership.
Don't forget, too, that Obama was the one that ignored ISIL when it could have been dealt with, and instead went ahead with his policy of removing the one thing that could have stopped ISIL while it was still the "JV" team.
Few females of the species are as disgusting and hateful as Michelle, so it is hard to see how anyone could see her on the same level of Jackie O or Ladybird or anyone else who can refrain from showing contempt for the country that elected her hubby into the White House, twice.
We also have Obama to thank for making race relations what they are, with his inability to keep his mouth shut until the facts are out, so as to create as much hate as possible so no amount of facts will allay the hysteria created by a president who will attend the funeral of a thug shot trying to murder someone but not the funeral of a Supreme Court justice.
Steven, you are playing the "blame the victim" game here. It isn't promoting racial division to publicly point out the latent and overt white elitism that permeates every aspect of our country. Every time the president invites any black celebrities to the White House he gets called racist. Yet white presidents could invite white celebrities without getting tagged as showing favoritism to their own race. Yes, he used some high-profile mass shootings to bring attention to insane racial hatred. I would hope that a white president would have done the same thing. But we have far too many mass shootings in this country for him to attend the funeral of all of the victims. The funeral — get over it. He was following long established presidential protocol for that and for Nancy Reagan's funeral. I travel frequently outside this country, and in every country people tell me they respect and admire our president. You just hate that, don't you!
Another brick in the wall