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It may have been daily exposure to Lance Armstrong’s televised exploits along the roads of France. Or maybe it was the memory of packs of Lycra-clad young Italians pedaling furiously along the winding roads in the steep Chianti hills between Loro Ciufenna and Siena. Perhaps it was the bright yellow LiveSTRONG bracelet worn for almost a year now in honor of Lance and a large group of friends who have survived various forms of cancer. Whatever the cause, The Observer was afflicted with bicycle fever last week. It had been 20 years since The Observer had pedaled his aquamarine Bianchi through windswept Grand Prairie roads between Lonoke, Humnoke, Cabot and places in between in one of the Century Rides with a bunch of friends. A trip to the local bike shop began with visions of Lycra, little narrow tires, titanium frames, 24-speed gearing, narrow leather seats, and so forth. On arrival at the store, however, a helpful young Lance Lookalike took one look at the now-superannuated Observer and without a word steered the prospective Tour de France Mitty into a section of the shop stocked with what the young man called “comfort bikes.” He showed the silverback dreamer a model with fat tires and a seat post that sports a hydraulic mechanism designed to modulate the insult to the posterior that Little Rock’s pot-holed streets offer. “You might like this one,” the youngster politely advised The Observer. “It comes with a wider seat and lots of cushioning. It’s also got a kickstand.” In The Observer’s glory days of riding the Ferndale Loop (before murderous meth-cookers driving eight-foot-tall pickup trucks made that route tantamount to suicide) and the Lake Maumelle Loop, kickstands would have made you a laughing stock. Now, in midsummer 2005, a kickstand didn’t seem like such a bad idea. The Observer accepted the polite young salesman’s advice and sprang for a nice green-and-black “comfort bike” and a new helmet to go with it. And a rack to tote the thing with. The Observer has been practicing furiously for his return to Central Arkansas cycling glory. Next week he plans to take his new bike out of the parking lot and onto the sidewalks of the city. In a month or so, maybe a ride on the road. It is not unprecedented nor even particularly unusual for a president’s Supreme Court nominees to be turned back, Judy Appelbaum told a group at the Bowen School of Law at UALR. “Nearly one in four of Supreme Court nominees has been forced to withdraw or been rejected by the Senate,” she said, and if President Bush nominates ultra-conservative judges for the Court, those should be denied too. Appelbaum, vice president and legal director for the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, came to Little Rock for a forum, “The Future of the Supreme Court — What’s at Stake for Women,” sponsored by the Women’s Law Center and People for the American Way. What’s at stake, she said, is that the gains women have made in the past decades “are very much at risk if the courts are taken over by ultra-conservatives” — that is, judges in the mold of current Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who’ve been identified by Bush as his favorite justices. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has announced her retirement, was a conservative who sometimes disagreed with women’s rights advocates, but she was a responsible conservative who often provided the swing vote in decisions favorable to women’s rights, Appelbaum said. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who may leave the Court soon — he’s 80 and in bad health — is a conservative too, but he frequently disagrees with Scalia and Thomas, she said. If Rehnquist resigns, and Bush promotes a current justice to chief justice, Bush could name three new justices in a short period of time. Appelbaum and others on the platform urged the forum attendees to study the records of Bush’s nominees and oppose extremists, by contacting their senators and writing letters-to-the-editor, for example. The audience was attentive, eager to participate, and small. Not counting a couple of reporters, it numbered fewer than 20 people, including half a dozen men. As the meeting was breaking up, a woman observed “Some women just don’t care about women’s rights.” Evidently.
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