The Observer, Sept. 23 

A friend of The Observer's who's lucky enough to be retired while he still has the strength to climb the bluffs of Emerald Park in North Little Rock hit the trail there last week. (He'd finished Swiffering the bathrooms earlier, which he did gladly, since he wasn't behind a desk. That's how elated he is to be retired.)

Somewhere in the middle of his hike, he noticed a woman on the twisty path. There was something odd about her, he decided. For one thing, she was smoking a cigarette. Few folks pause in their exercise routine to smoke. Nor would she make eye contact with him, and he's a friendly-looking fellow.

A little further on he saw something else weird. In the middle of the woods, lying in the leaves maybe a mile from civilization, was a Magnavox television. (That's what he said, Magnavox.) New. Big. Too big for the woman to have carried it ... but maybe she was just a lookout.

Someone was going to a whole lot of trouble to burgle a home, our friend decided. Most thieves hereabouts just back their vans up to our houses to clean us out. Seldom do they go to the trouble to lug our valuables into the woods first. Maybe these thieves were from out of town.

Our friend hit the trail back home.

This is, without a doubt, The Observer's favorite time of year: after the heat of summer has faded, but before the chill of fall has swept in — the in-between time; that few precious weeks in mid-September when God is rewinding His clock. It is lovely to be outdoors, still warm in the daytime but delicious at night, the temperature just perfect for these mortal bodies of ours, as if someone, somewhere wants us to be truly happy. We are in the middle place ourselves these days: too old and sour to enjoy the summer, too achy about the joints to enjoy the winter. And so, here we are in the time of year that The Observer can truly enjoy. We'll get another few precious months come spring, then it's back to feeling like a sponge someone is in the process of wringing out.

The Observer tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors around this time of year, often sitting on the front porch of The Observatory in the red wooden armchair we rescued five years ago from the curb and rehabbed with a coat of paint. The moon, in particular, is beautiful at night, ringed with a halo of mist and fanned by the trees. The breeze comes down Maple Street. The leaves move. Across the road, we can see the coal of our neighbor's cigarette in the dark. A car whooshes past. A dog barks. It is, we think, a beautiful moment to be alive, and here, and free.

The Observer was on hand at the UALR Bowen School of Law earlier this week to hear five out of the nine U.S. attorneys who were ousted from office during the Bush administration for political reasons talk about the scandal and its ultimate effect on the U.S. Department of Justice. One panelist said the Bush administration had turned the D.O.J. into a "laughing stock."

Everyone in attendance wanted to hear from Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney from Little Rock, who was fired to help Karl Rove political hit man Tim Griffin pad his resume for a future political career.

Ultimately, Cummins didn't have much to say about Griffin, but the event was an interesting one. One particular, and unexpected, highlight came when John McKay, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, discussed his thoughts on amending the process of appointing future U.S. attorneys.

"Another [suggestion] might be that U.S. attorneys, as has been the practice, would not be removed for anything other than for cause — dereliction of duty, committing a crime in office," McKay said. "I think one U.S. attorney was removed for biting a stripper. And when I got the phone call — of course they gave us no information as to why we were being removed — I think we all asked. In my head I said, 'Well, I don't think I bit a stripper.' "

Just when we thought the roar of laughter in the room couldn't get any louder, Carol Lam, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, quickly interjected, "But at the end of the day John was thinking, 'Well, I'm fired anyway, I might as well have bitten a stripper.' "

Although all panelists said the real issue wasn't losing their jobs, but the politicization of the D.O.J., it still must have been a shock to the system to get fired out of the blue. We guess you just have to laugh to keep from crying.



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