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South on Main's brunch is a crowd-pleaser

December 14, 2017
South on Main's brunch is a crowd-pleaser
It's a breakfast smorgasbord. /more/

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Max Brantley

In black and white

The men and women who patrol Little Rock in black and white vehicles /more/

Ernest Dumas

Silly acts, good law

It was unavoidable that the struggle by sexual minorities to gain the equal treatment that the Constitution promises them would devolve into silliness and that the majestic courts of the land would have to get their dignity sullied in order to resolve the issues. /more/

Gene Lyons

A difference

How low can a columnist go? On evidence, nowhere near as low as the president of the United States. I'd intended to highlight certain ironies in the career of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The self-anointed moral arbiter of the Senate began her career as a tobacco company lawyer — that is, somebody ill-suited to demand absolute purity of anybody, much less Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). /more/

Movie Reviews

A hundred mirrors

December 14, 2017
A hundred mirrors
'The Disaster Artist' is meta-meta. /more/

Pearls About Swine

Morris takes off

December 14, 2017
Chad Morris' clear and present hurdle last week, upon being anointed as the Arkansas Razorbacks' sixth permanent head football coach in a quarter-century of occupancy in the Southeastern Conference, was to convince grumbling, listless fans that his credentials were something greater than the seemingly pedestrian 14-22 record in three seasons as the lead pony for the long-besieged SMU program. /more/

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Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 09:43:00

Trump administration gag order at CDC: forbidden words include "fetus," "transgender," "evidence-based," "diversity"

Every headline I read nowadays would be considered far too ham-fisted for satirical fiction. 

The Trump administration is prohibiting seven words or phrases from appearing in any documents for next year's budget at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington Post reports:

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
The CDC staffers were not given an explanation for why these words and phrases are being banned.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the White House is at least partially populated by the sort of dreary trolls one encounters in internet comment sections. The aggrieved lulz of the dull. The peevish president and his sinister minions can be terrifying, but much of the time they are merely tedious.

 

Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 08:54:00

Sexual harassment complaint was made against legislator; attorney general advises investigation materials protected from FOI

click to enlarge RUTLEDGE: Investigation materials around harassment claim exempt from disclosure.
  • RUTLEDGE: Investigation materials around harassment claim exempt from disclosure.

An attorney general's opinion released yesterday reveals a potentially explosive piece of news: Someone sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Arkansas House of Representatives for "any documents,records, or correspondence related to complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment made against legislators since the year 2008." The request turned up one document within the scope of interest.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge yesterday issued an opinion that withholding the document from release was consistent with the law because of an exemption for "employee evaluation or job performance records."

The opinion comes in response to a request for guidance from House Speaker Jeremy Gillam. According to Gillam's letter to Rutledge, the document "was created in connection with the investigation of alleged harassment."

Gillam stated that he believed the document was exempt from disclosure due to exemptions for "unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of .. . members of the General Assembly" and because the document "is an employee evaluation record that is exempt from disclosure [under Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(c)(l)], or that it is a personnel record that, if released, would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy [under Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(b)(12)]."

Rutledge found that the document was clearly a public record subject to disclosure unless it met one of the law's exemptions. However, she argued that because it was generated as part of investigation of employee misconduct — and the employee was not terminated or suspended — the document was exempt from disclosure as an employee evaluation or job performance record. (Rutledge did not directly comment on Gillam's other two theories for exemption.)

In her opinion, Rutledge laid out the criteria that she said must be met for an "employee evaluation or job performance record" to be subject to the FOIA, which she argued exempted the document relating to the harassment investigation against a legislator because there was no suspension or termination:

1. The employee was suspended or terminated (i.e., level of discipline);
2. There has been a final administrative resolution of the suspension or termination proceeding (i.e., finality);
3. The records in question formed a basis for the decision made in that proceeding to suspend or terminate the employee (i.e., basis); and
4. The public has a compelling interest in the disclosure of the records in question (i.e., compelling interest).

It appears from the background information you have provided that the document in question was solicited by the employer for purposes of investigating alleged misconduct in the workplace. It therefore qualifies as an employee-evaluation record under the above definition. As an employee-evaluation record, it cannot be released unless all the elements listed above are met. You have stated that there were no suspensions or terminations in connection with the investigation. Thus, the level-of-discipline element has not been met. 
I'm no lawyer, but this seems like a curious finding if in fact the allegation was made against a legislator, who is not simply an employee of the House of Representatives. House leadership cannot fire or suspend a member in the manner of an employer — would that make any investigation exempt short of impeachment proceedings?

One possibility is that the investigation involved a staff member, who clearly is an employee who can be fired or suspended and would fit under the exemption Rutledge describes. But according to Rutledge's opinion, the FOIA request was for "any documents,records, or correspondence related to complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment made against legislators since the year 2008 [emphasis mine]." Could the complaint have been made against a legislator for the behavior of a staff member? With the document being withheld from public disclosure, we just don't know.

p.s. You my recall that this very exemption was applied to Rutledge's own personnel records while she was an employee at the Department of Human Services. Her file included a "do not rehire" note from a supervisor written 10 days after her resignation, with coding indicating it was based on "gross misconduct." Emails relating to the matter were ruled exempt from the FOI as employee evaluation or job performance record because she was neither fired nor suspended. Rutledge refused to voluntarily allow DHS to reveal the documents, as she could have under the law. 

 

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 18:16:00

Federal court blocks Trump's rollback of contraception coverage

Federal Judge Wendy Beetlestone today ordered a temporary injunction halting new rules initiated by the Trump administration that would have limited women's access to free birth control under the Affordable Care Act. 

The ACA requires birth control to be covered by employers (certain religious organizations are exempted). The new rules, issued by the Trump administration in October, would have allowed almost any employer to opt out of providing contraception as part of its insurance coverage because of religious beliefs or moral convictions.

A number of states have sued, including Pennsylvania, which secured the temporary injunction today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

Beetlestone wrote that "the ACA contains no statutory language allowing the Agencies to create such sweeping exemptions to the requirements to cover 'preventive services,' which, as interpreted by those same agencies, include mandatory no-cost coverage of contraceptive services. Nor does any rule of statutory construction warrant these exemptions."

The "moral exemption rule," in particular, was likely too broad, Beetlestone found:


The Moral Exemption Rule allows any non-profit or for-profit organization that is not publicly traded to deny contraceptive coverage for its employees for any sincerely held moral conviction. This means that boards of closely held corporations can vote, or their executives can decide, to deny contraceptive coverage for the corporation’s women employees not just for religious reasons but also for any inchoate – albeit sincerely held – moral reason they can articulate. Who determines whether the expressed moral reason is sincere or not or, for that matter, whether it falls within the bounds of morality or is merely a preference choice, is not found within the terms of the Moral Exemption Rule. If one assumes that it is the Agency Defendants – or, indeed, any agency – then the Rule has conjured up a world where a  government entity is empowered to impose its own version of morality on each one of us. That cannot be right.
Without a preliminary injunction, Beetlestone ruled, irreparable harm could be suffered, not least by the women who would be denied coverage:

The real life consequences, as amici point out, are significant: roughly 41% of unintended pregnancies in America are caused by inconsistent use of contraceptives. These problems are particularly acute in Pennsylvania, where the rate of unintended pregnancy is 53%, significantly higher than the national average. Tr. 152. The negative effects of even a short period of decreased access to no-cost contraceptive services are irreversible.  
Here's Beetleston's opinion.

The injunction will block the rule from being implemented nationwide while the case in Pennsylvania proceeds.

 

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 10:12:00

Windgate makes $300,000 grant to Pulaski Tech for arts

click to enlarge screen_shot_2017-12-12_at_10.09.30_am.png

A grant of $300,000 from the Windgate Charitable Foundation in Siloam Springs will promote UA Pulaski Tech's arts programming at its Center for Humanities and Arts (CHARTS), the college announced today.

The Windgate Foundation — which also provided $20.3 million for the new arts facility at UA Little Rock — has been a generous supporter of CHARTS, providing $1 million to furnish and equip the facility, which includes classrooms, a 450-seat theater and the Windgate Gallery, and providing a $500,000 challenge grant to create an endowment, which Pulaski Tech met.

Revenues from programming will be re-invested in CHARTS to help it become self-sustaining.

 

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 16:58:00

Make like the Big Lebowski this holiday! Dust Bowl may open before Christmas

click to enlarge Dust Bowl Lanes and Lounge, 315 E. Capitol Ave.
  • Dust Bowl Lanes and Lounge, 315 E. Capitol Ave.

The neon orange and green bowling pin signage is up, the bowling pin handles on the front door are attached and the Dust Bowl Lanes and Lounge at 315 E. Capitol Ave. should blow in by Christmas, an owner says.

Adam Price, vice president and partner in parent company The McNellie’s Group of Tulsa, says he’s also “bullish” on the opening of Fassler Hall, the McNellie’s-owned restaurant next door at 307 E. Capitol: He’s hoping for a mid-January opening, though his crew is telling him February.

Until then, you’ll be able to eat, drink (full bar) and go for strikes in the vintage-furnished Dust Bowl, which is making use of the red leather bar front from the building’s former identity as the M.M. Eberts American Legion Post and is using seats and mid-century wire and diamond wall decor salvaged from a bowling alley in Pryor, Okla. The wooden lanes were also “harvested” from an Oklahoma business because “the sound when the ball hits the wood is more satisfying” than on today’s lane composites, Price said.

click to enlarge Construction on the Dust Bowl isn't quite complete, but the decor, salvaged from an Oklahoma alley, is up.
  • Construction on the Dust Bowl isn't quite complete, but the decor, salvaged from an Oklahoma alley, is up.
There are eight lanes — two of which are walled off for private parties — and a karaoke room down the hall from the bar. Final touches are being installed, and the fire marshal was expected this week.

When Fassler Hall opens, it will serve a simple menu of seven house-made sausages, schnitzel and more, along with German beers and local brews. It will seat around 200 inside and in the beer garden on the west side of the building, Price said. That patio happens to be in a nice safe spot: right next to the Little Rock Police substation at Capitol and Cumberland streets.

 

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 10:12:00

"I Live My Life the Way I Play Music": A Q & A with Tommy Emmanuel

click to enlarge image003_1_.jpg

Grammy-award winning guitarist Tommy Emmanuel will be performing tonight at Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway. The show will feature one full set of solo classic acoustic songs and a full set of Christmas favorites with Pat Berguson, John Knowles CGP and Anne Sellick. We caught up with him by phone on Friday afternoon in Wichita, Kansas, while he was backstage resting before that evening's show.

When you're playing live, how much of your show is improvised and how much is repeated from previous shows?

Like everybody, we all have our bag of licks and things that we like and have learned, but when I'm taking solos, I'm totally improvising, whether it's "Jingle  Bells'' or "Guitar Boogie.'' I'm making music instantaneously.... My whole life is improvisation...I live my life the way I play music...I try to be spontaneous and make it up as I go along.

When you travel a lot, and play show after show, and you're meeting people night after night, you can get into a routine. When I arrived here today, I came into my dressing room and watched some Buddy Rich to inspire me. To see and hear someone do something at a level that is almost unreachable.

Buddy Rich, the drummer?

Yes, he's been an inspiration to me since I was a kid. I got to see him play three times live. One of the greatest musical experiences of my life, because of how he interpreted the music from a drummer's perspective. He played the drums as if he knew the big picture of the song....he just wasn't playing the drums...he was driving the whole band....he was inside the music. I'm trying to tap into creativity almost on a spiritual level.

I know Chet Atkins was a major influence. Did he improvise when he played?

Chet was a great improviser....he approached melody like a singer, that's how I learned....by imagining that my guitar is actually the vocal...When I work out an arrangement of a song I'll go listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan or Frank Sinatra sing that song and hear how they phrase that melody, how they approached that melody.

What about singing? How do you feel about your voice, your singing?

I've never considered myself a singer, but I love singing because it's the first instrument.....it makes you feel good physically to sing....spiritually, emotionally, everything.....in my show, especially when I'm playing solo, if I put a couple of vocal tunes in.....it kind of breaks things up and gives people a different sound to focus on.....and then I can play around.

Have you studied singing, worked on it?

Not really, I've never had any training. I asked a singer one time that I really respect, a really great singer from Australia, Can you tell me about singing? What I need to work on? And his advice was, Open your mouth and push it out! (laughs)

A lot of it has to do with your breathing.....a singer as good as James Taylor.....first of all, you never hear a bad note.....and you never hear him take a breath.....he knows how to breathe thru his nose and blow out his mouth.

Frank Sinatra learned how to "circular" breathe.....you try to sing along with Frank Sinatra and you're going to run out of breath.....if you want to learn about singing there are so many places you can go to.....it's all about getting a tone and getting the pitch right.

Tell me about great melodies. What do think makes a melody great? Do you think you've written any great melodies, why or why not?

I don't know if I've written any great melodies....I know I've written melodies that I like and I've written melodies that people like and that's a great reason to keep going at it. ... It's pretty hard to write something as good as Leonard Bernstein "Somewhere" from West Side Story....(Emmanuel sings the melody)...."There's a place for us...."

I don't waste time listening to things that don't move me.

Some people say the elements of a great melody are mysterious, unfathomable. What do you think?

I can tell you certain elements.....For instance, George Harrison is a writer who has a similar formula.....he'll always use diminished chords.....because they're full of emotions.....and full of mystery.....then he'll sing a melody line, and then he'll sing the same line but change the chord from minor to major or the other way.....and it just becomes powerful.....having moving chords underneath a simple melody is a really good tool as well.....if you look at John Lennon's "Imagine".....the chords are constantly moving.....then sings the melody.....it's almost like a question and answer writing.....(Emmanuel sings the tune to "Imagine.")

Who are some of your favorite musicians playing today who should be better known?

Jack Pearson from Nashville. ...one of the greatest musicians I've seen....he sings everything from the Reverend Gary Davis to Allman Brothers music.....has one of those high beautiful sounding voices that you can't get enough of.


A young man from Australia named Joe Robinson...he's a great talent.....only 20 or 21 …..doing great work.


From Croatia...young boy...called Frano Zivkovic...he can play anything from classical music to my songs, he writes songs...he's only 12 years old...he's a genius....Frano has been on tour with me many times.


How would you describe this period of music we're living through, driven by the Internet with all the opportunities to listen to music, study it, create and distribute it worldwide?

This is one of the luckiest generations, but at the same time they have no excuses. If you can't pick something up.....I've had so many people say, "Couldn't you give me instructions, couldn't you give me the tabs?" And I say, "No, watch the video of me playing it and work it out." People don't even want to do that, even though it's right in front of them.

What is your feeling about musical talent, where it comes from, how to develop it?

Talent is a gift that comes in different forms. And everybody has a different one. Somebody can hear a piece of music and memorize the whole thing because that's how they're wired. I tried to learn how to read music, but I just had a mental block with it. I just couldn't get it at all. But I can hear a piece of music and play it back to you almost instantaneously.

I really admire people who can read a piece of sheet music and instantly make music. Like John Williams the classical guitar player; he can play Bach, stuff that's damn near impossible to play. Not only can he play it, but he can sight read it and play it. That is unbelievable! With whatever gifts you've been given, you have to make the most of them.

Do you think you're a better player now that ten, fifteen years ago? What about in ten years from now? What about plateauing?

I'm taking care of myself, staying happy and healthy. If I see some footage back in '96, '97, '98, I can see that my hands were a lot quicker back then, my hands were a lot more precise, but I think my ideas are better now. There is more depth in my ideas, although physically I'm not as on top of it as I used to be. I still enjoy the challenge. And I beg, steal and borrow from everybody I come into contact with.

 

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The class of 2016

December 14, 2017
The class of 2016
First-time candidates outraged by Trump's election off the bench and into state and local races. /more/
 

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