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Dining Review

Mex for the people

April 19, 2018
Mex for the people
Cantina Cinco de Mayo hits the right notes in downtown LR. /more/

Dining Search


Ernest Dumas

Week That Was

After the wildest week of the wildest presidency in history, the clouded future suddenly unfolds more clearly and, yes, nearer. That includes the end of the Trump presidency. /more/

Gene Lyons

Trump and Comey

In the Bizarro World of the Trump administration, it's only fitting that the president serves as publicity director for James Comey's big book tour. (In the old Superman comics, Bizarro World was an upside-down reality where wickedness was virtue and vice versa.) Supposedly, Trump's stomping around the White House and various golf courses red-faced with anger, emitting smoke from his ears. /more/

Movie Reviews

'Isle of Dogs' unmistakably Wes Anderson

April 12, 2018
'Isle of Dogs' unmistakably Wes Anderson
The actors deliver their lines drolly, portioning out emotions in pinches rather than with scoops. The stories flirt with magical realism. /more/

Pearls About Swine


April 19, 2018
Dave Van Horn has had some fine baseball squads in his tenure as Arkansas's head coach. He took over for the well-regarded Norm DeBriyn in 2003, had his overachieving bunch in Omaha the next spring, and then took the Diamond Hogs back to college baseball's Valhalla three more times over a seven-season span from 2009 to 2015. But what happened in 2016 might well have proved his genuine value to the athletic program at large. /more/

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Arkansas Blog

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Rock Candy

Music, art and eats in Arkansas


Arkansas's guide to medical cannabis

Arkansas Blog

Sunday, April 22, 2018 - 14:28:00

New poll finds Asa Hutchinson with sizeable lead over Jan Morgan, plus support for continuing Medicaid expansion among Republican primary voters

click to enlarge MORGAN: Trails Hutchinson in primary battle.
  • MORGAN: Trails Hutchinson in primary battle.

A new poll from Talk Business finds that Governor Hutchinson has a substantial lead over Jan Morgan, the hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs.

In the survey of likely Republican party primary voters in the state, 57.5 percent are backing Hutchinson, with 30.5 percent favoring Morgan. Another 12 percent are undecided (the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points). That's a commanding lead, if a significant irritant for a popular incumbent governor in a primary. Enough of an irritant for Hutchinson to try to toss some red meat to the right-wing base? We'll see.

The most interesting finding in the poll, however, is a substantial shift in the views of GOP voters on Medicaid expansion. A substantial plurality of likely voters in the Republican primary now support the program, continuing a trend toward increasing support for the policy among GOP voters that has been shown in previous Talk Business polls. That's a doozy of a finding, a major turnaround from four years ago when the program was first enacted (and led to wave of primary challenges, with mixed results, on that very issue).

The Talk Business poll found that 41.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state support "Arkansas Works," the Medicaid expansion program that uses Medicaid dollars made available by the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans (this is the same program once known as the "private option" until Hutchinson re-branded it, concluding that the old name had become "politically toxic"). That's compared to 25.5 percent who oppose it and 33 percent who don't know.

Here's the precise wording of the Talk Business poll question (worth noting that responses tend to shift depending on whether the word "Obamacare" is in the question):

As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called “Arkansas Works.” Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program? 
The healthy plurality now supporting the Medicaid expansion is a sharp shift from 2014, when a similar question was asked by a Talk Business poll about the program, then known as the "private option" under the Beebe administration. Back then, a 45-percent plurality of Republican voters opposed the program. That has turned upside down in the four years since. It probably helps that a Republican governor is now in office and supporting the program (an interesting counterfactual is whether the legislature would have re-upped Medicaid expansion under a hypothetical Gov. Mike Ross; arguably Hutchinson helped save Medicaid expansion in Arkansas by giving it the stamp of approval of a Republican governor).

Joe Maynard, the Fayetteville businessman who has poured money into the Conduit for Action network — a dizzying array of PACs and other entities in opposition to Medicaid expansion which allow Maynard to skirt campaign finance limits — had some early success in 2014 funding primary challenges, helping to stop then Rep. John Burris from gaining a senate seat and helping then Rep. Terry Rice to topple Sen. Bruce Holland (while a number of other GOP private option backers survived). However, lately Maynard-backed candidates have been trounced in GOP primaries again and again. Conduit has promised to keep fighting, but these poll results suggest that the anti-Obamacare attack may finally have grown stale in GOP primaries.

Morgan herself has made attacks on Hutchinson's continuation of the Medicaid expansion a key plank in her own crusade against the "RINO" establishment. This latest poll suggests she has a decent base of support but most primary voters still aren't buying what she's selling.

Here's some analysis offered to Talk Business by Hendrix politics professor and Arkansas Times contributor Jay Barth, who helped craft and analyze the poll:

Governor Hutchinson is dominant with the type of voters who have traditionally participated in GOP primaries. Jan Morgan is decidedly stronger with those who have been drawn to the party over the last couple of years by President Donald J. Trump. There is little doubt that the traditional Republican voters will show up to participate in the primary next month. The key question is whether the new Trump voters show up to vote without the President on the ballot. If they do, Morgan could close the gap with the Governor significantly. ...

One clear division between the gubernatorial candidates is on Arkansas’s distinctive form of Medicaid expansion—now called Arkansas Works. While Republican voters historically were dubious about Medicaid expansion (a 45% plurality of Republican voters opposed the “private option” in January of 2014, when Governor Beebe was still governor), GOP voters have shifted towards plurality support for the program rebranded and redesigned in the Hutchinson era.


Sunday, April 22, 2018 - 12:44:00

Finally, a memorial to the 21 boys who were burned to death at Wrightsville in '59

click to enlarge Ardecy  Gyce, whose brother Amos was one of 21 boys burned to death in a locked dormitory at the Negro Boys Industrial School at Wrightsville, stands by a memorial to the boys at Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock.
  • Ardecy Gyce, whose brother Amos was one of 21 boys burned to death in a locked dormitory at the Negro Boys Industrial School at Wrightsville, stands by a memorial to the boys at Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock.

It has been 59 years since 21 teen-aged boys incarcerated at the so-called Negro Boys Industrial School were burned to death in their locked dormitory. The Times wrote about the event in 2008, after the brother and mother of one of the boys approached the Times looking for someone to remember the event, and headlined the story "Stirring the Ashes." But on Saturday, a monument to the boys was placed at Haven of Rest Cemetery, where 14 of the boys were buried.

The boys were sent to Wrightsville for petty theft, pranks, homelessness. One boy had been caught soaping windows during Halloween. Another was incarcerated for riding a white boy's bicycle, even though the white boy's mother told authorities it was all right.

It was early in the morning of March 5, 1959, when a fire in a stove spread to the "Big Boys" dorm, which had only two exits, both padlocked. Some boys escaped by prying loose metal metal screens from two dorm windows. No one came to their aid. Many bodies were found piled in a heap in one corner of the room.

The building burned to the ground. The Arkansas Democrat, then an afternoon paper, ran a picture of the fire on its front page. The Arkansas Gazette ran a photo of Gov. Orval Faubus, standing amid the rubble the following morning.

The bodies of the 14 buried at Haven of Rest were so badly burned that they could not be individually identified. The other seven boys were buried privately.

Helping stir the ashes and ignite the effort to create a monument to the fire was the 2017 book by Grif Stockley, "Black  Boys Burning." Stockley told the crowd that Arkansas's "racial history is still hidden and glossed over, but by your commitment to honor and remember the boys who died in the fire at Wrightsville,  you’ve taken a giant step toward coming to terms with that past."

Former Sen. Irma Hunter Brown, who is leads the Friends of the Haven of Rest and who was part of a group that raised funds for the monument, told the gathered group gathered graveside, "We don’t want this to be a forgotten part of the history of Little Rock, of the state of Arkansas, of this country, because the entire world looked at what happened here. This part of our history, as painful as it is, will always be remembered."

UA Little Rock history professor Dr. Brian Mitchell spoke, saying, "If you look honestly at the situation the conclusion we come to is that these boys died of racism, the same racism we live with today. The "benign neglect" [as the state termed the incident] that allowed them to lock up these children is a consequence of that racism, the same consequence we have when legislators tell us we need to close SNAP programs for children, the same neglect we have when we're told that there’s not enough money for our schools, the same same when a grand jury says there will be no justice in black shootings. ... It isn't benign neglect that killed them. It is racism."

Michael Young
, who was himself incarcerated at Wrightsville, laid the wreath. Ardecy Gyce, sister of victim Amos Gyce, who was 16 when he died, spoke briefly. She recalled Amos as a "loving brother who was always protective of me."

The location of the unmarked graves at Haven of Rest was turned up in the 1959 records of the cemetery by the brother who approached the Times, Frank Lawrence. Thanks to a grant from the Curtis Sykes Memorial Fund distributed by the Black History Commission and other donations, a bronze plaque embedded in a stone now memorializes the names of all 21 victims. The architect Kwendeche and former Mosaic Templars Cultural Center director Constance Sarto put together the grant application.

Those buried at Haven of Rest include Lindsey Cross, 14; Charles L. Thomas, 15; Frank Barnes, 15; R.D. Brown, 16; Jessie Carpenter Jr., 16; Joe Crittenden, 16; John Daniel, 16; Willie G. Horner, 16; Roy Chester Powell, 16; Cecil Preston, 17; Carl E. Thornton, 15; Johnnie Tillison, 16; Edward Tolston Jr., 15; and Charles White, 15.

The others were William Piggee, 13, the boy incarcerated for riding a white boy's bike;  O.T. Meadows, 13; Henry Daniels, 15; John Alfred George, 15; Roy Hegwood, 15; Willie Lee Williams, 15; and Gyce.


Sunday, April 22, 2018 - 10:03:00

More documentation of the Razorback Foundation's fiction of independence

Another big report from the D-G's Eric Besson this morning with more evidence of the Razorback Foundation's fingerprints being all over the activities of the University of Arkansas. That's no surprise to readers of this blog, but Besson unearthed new supporting details, including documentation that Razorback Foundation officials directly participated in university athletic department job interviews.

The Foundation, which supports UA athletics, is ostensibly an independent nonprofit — a status that is has used to declare itself exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act. It's a flimsy and risible fiction that the Foundation has used to shield its activities from public scrutiny.

The D-G has reviewed 22,000 pages of emails exchanged between the Foundation and university staff, acquired by FOIA request to the university itself. In addition to the Foundation's participation during candidate interviews, which included offering feedback to the university, Besson's reports that those public records reveal that Foundation officials attended exclusive, high-level athletic department strategy sessions; the involvement of Foundation leadership in a discussion over the structure of staff positions in the athletic department; and close coordination between university and Foundation staff over ticket sales and donations to the Foundation. 

Scott Varady, the executive director of the Foundation who keeps a tight grip on the foundation's records by claiming its independent status, told the D-G that Foundation staff were allowed to meet with job candidates as a "matter of courtesy." There can be little doubt that the Foundation has a significant say in the school's choice for football coach and athletic director, since it's footing the bill for the process: The deals are struck in consultation with Foundation officials who promise to keep the money flowing to meet those obligations; the Foundation is paying the massive severance packages to fired coach Bret Bielema and fired athletic director Jeff Long; it funded the outside search firms hired to find replacements; and it doled out the $2 million required to get new coach Chad Morris out of his previous contract. The records reviewed by Besson reveal that the Foundation also got involved during the search process for candidates for lower staff positions related to ticket sales, including account executive for premium seats and associate director of ticket operations. Candidates for these positions had interviews scheduled with the Foundation as part of the interview process, records show.

Foundation officials also communicated and coordinated directly with account executives at the university regarding fans interested in tickets or purchasing upgrades, including Foundation members who had complaints about their seating arrangements. In one case, a Foundation staffer helped a fan sign up for basketball seats; in response a university account executive wrote asking whether he should fill out the fan's paperwork for a donation to the Foundation.

Athletic department spokesman Kevin Trainor told the D-G, "For the convenience and benefit of donors and ticket holders, the [university-funded] Razorback Ticket Office and the Razorback Foundation work together to make the donation and ticket purchasing process as convenient as possible." Heh.

There's much more in Besson's report, including Varady's involvement in high-level discussions over staffing structure and the attendance of Foundation officials at regular meetings of the athletic director's executive and senior staffs. They've attended these high-level meetings, along with a very small group of top staffers, since 2012. Varady told the D-G, "To be clear, our attendance in these meetings does not make us 'part' of the 'athletic director's executive staff' or the senior staff. In these meetings, we do not make decisions for the Athletic Department, and the Athletic Department does not make decisions for the Razorback Foundation." I'm sure they're just quiet observers and university staff pays them no mind!

No point in going too far through the looking glass with Varady's obfuscations and legalese. The question is whether someone is going to file a lawsuit to demand that the Razorback Foundation end the charade and comply with the FOIA. It would require serious funding to go up against the Hogland legal team, although there's reason to believe it's a winnable case. This fight has been going on for more than thirty years, as Max Brantley has recounted on this blog.

A records request by the Arkansas Gazette in the 1980s led to attorney general Steve Clark issuing an opinion that the records were public; after a protracted fight, the Gazette got the records. In response, the Foundation moved off campus and took other steps to shield itself from public sunshine, hiding all records from public view from that point on. It has been "independent" ever since, refusing every effort by the public to know what it's up to, despite its obvious affiliation with a public university. The D-G has been doing yeoman's work this year using records directly from the university to establish that the Foundation is not meaningfully independent from the athletic department it supports.

It would make for compelling evidence, if the newspaper, or someone, decides to sue.


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Friday, April 20, 2018 - 16:42:00

No Small Talk, Ep. 14: Jasmine Blunt of "The Influence"

click to enlarge nosmalltalk.png

This week, we talk with Jasmine Blunt about her work on The Influence, touch base on a few pieces of news and festival lineups in the area and make some recommendations for the next couple of weekends in the Central Arkansas area.

First (1:25), a little arts and entertainment news:

The Rev Room is still going strong with shows from Hurray for the Riff Raff and Waxahatchee, Big Dam Horns, Keller Williams and Amasa Hines coming up, as well as a benefit for the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance this Sunday at 2 p.m., but the venue will close the restaurant portion of its business to make room for a new buyer. Sorry, taco lovers.

Heads up, nerds! Spa-Con, to take place Sept. 21-23 in downtown Hot Springs, announced the first of its special guests: Sean Maher, Arvell Jones and Nightengale Vixon. Stay tunes for more announcements from them.

The very first King Biscuit Blues Festival without Sonny Payne (1926-2018), longtime host of "King Biscuit Time" radio, announced its lineup, too. That's Oct. 3-6 on Cherry Street in downtown Helena, Arkansas.

The acclaimed and elaborate touring Broadway production of "The Lion King," designed by Julie Taymor (the same mastermind behind one of Omaya's favorite Shakespeare adaptations, "Titus"), opens this week at Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Also, the traveling Czech That Film Festival lands in Little Rock April 27-28, in partnership with the Arkansas Cinema Society.

Finally, we got word of a nonprofit working to revitalize public basketball courts as social hubs, The Blacktop Project. There's a Northwest Arkansas chapter soliciting designs for a court at Walker Park in Fayetteville. Neat!

click to enlarge 5ab7c47fd19f4368ffd75fe8.jpg
Next (16:54), we talk with Jasmine Blunt of The Influence radio, a self-described "full-service media company specializing in radio, events, and brand management for the aspiring artist, entrepreneur, and creative. Through innovative ideas, collaborative works, and supportive efforts; We strive to be a platform for the Arkansas creative youth and an outlet to ensure their craft, ideas, and dreams are no longer unnoticed."

Download The Influence Radio app on iTunes or your Android platform. It's all Arkansas-connected music, 24/7, and there's even a "song history" tab so you can see what you missed and chase those artists' music elsewhere.

Blunt talks about how she got started, what artistic and communication needs she was responding to when she and her team created The Influence, and we put her on the spot to name a few favorite artists.

Here's a sampling of a few [NSFW, depending on where you W] songs from Arkansas artists they played while we were writing this blog post:

At (27:49), Omaya gives a glimpse of the screenings coming up May 1-6 at the Bentonville Film Festival, our sponsor for this podcast.

click to enlarge bff.png

Finally, at (28:33), we make some recommendations:

Omaya fills us in on the Oxford American's "50 Years of True Grit" lineup this weekend, including screenings of both the 1969 and the 2010 film versions, as well as concerts, a variety show, lectures and a sweet afterparty at the White Water Tavern with Wussy and The Paranoid Style. 

Stephanie recommends you get tickets to hear poets Molly McCully Brown and Seth Pennington with musician John Burnette at Potluck and Poison Ivy next Thursday, April 26.

Jasmine recommends the "all Arkansas, all dopeness" on The Influence Radio app, available on iTunes and Android platforms.

And (31:36) The Move for the week: catch drag artist, LGBTQ advocate and cannabis activist Laganga Estranga at Club Sway this weekend. She does a killer "death drop" and a song called "Hot Box," and she's here to celebrate 4/20 weekend with the Club Sway contingent, hosted by the stars of the club's Fresh Fish All Stars competition.


Friday, April 20, 2018 - 13:50:00

Gallery guide: New shows, Argenta Art Walk

Tonight's the third Friday of the month, which means that you can see lots of art on and off Main Street in Argenta, which is holding its after-hours Art Walk from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Read more about Art Walk and see collaborative art by Chris Swasta and Matthew Castellano here.

Also new in Arkansas galleries:

The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (401 President Clinton Ave.) is has opened "Howard Simon: Art and Illustrations," a show of work by the woodcut artist who was for a time the husband of and illustrator for author Arkansas author Charlie May Simon.

Boswell Mourot Fine Art, 5815 Kavanaugh Blvd., opens an exhibition of new work by Arkansas artists Kellie Lehr and Elena Petroukhina tomorrow, April 21. There will be a reception for the artists from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Hearne Fine Art Gallery, 1001 Wright Ave., is showing "Then and Now," mixed media and illustration by Frank Morrison, in conjunction with the Arkansas Literary Festival. There will be an artist's reception for Morrison at 5:30 p.m. April 26.

M2 Gallery, 11525 Cantrell Road, is showing work by artists from Austin, Texas, in a show called "ATX2LR."

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville opens two shows tomorrow, April 21: "The Garden," about the intersection of art and nature, and "The Beyond: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art," work by O'Keeffe and 20 other contemporary artists. One of the artists in "The Garden," Jessica Pezalla, has spent the week installing a large-scale paper floral work at Crystal Bridges.

The Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E. Third St.) has opened a show of photographic works by Esther Nooner, Kristoffer Johnson, Helen Maringer, Kaia Hodo and Grace Ann Odem called "The Medium is the Message: Experimental Photography in Arkansas."

UA Pulaski Tech's 10th annual "Student Art Competitive" goes on exhibit today in the Center for Arts and Humanities.

Up in Mountain View, John Kirkpatrick will give a demonstration of his woodworking skills from 10:30 am. to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, April 21, at the Arkansas Craft Gallery, 104 E. Main St.

The Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville is featuring work by the members of the artist's collaborative group The Fenix.


Friday, April 20, 2018 - 10:50:00

Guitarist Ed Gerhard's lyricism lands on spellbound ears at The Joint

click to enlarge mvimg_20180419_213553.jpg

Acoustic guitarist Ed Gerhard played for a full house at The Joint Theater & Coffeehouse last night as part of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series. Essentially, once a month, fellow guitarist Steve Davison brings an acoustic guitarist of renown to the Argenta venue where he or she can be heard with minimal distraction in a small room that's acoustically outfitted for intense listening. I've been in the audience for formal classical recitals that were less hushed and still.

Gerhard's delivery is au naturale; he sits in a chair atop an elevated riser, surrounds himself with his guitar, his Weissenborn and a few accoutrements - a small mixer, an electronic tuner, a hot microphone and a nail file for mid-show maintenance of the long, acrylic-capped fingernails that double as picks on his right hand. He's too bereft of pretense to have a shtick, really, but if he has one, musically speaking, it's to take tunes like "The Water Is Wide" and render them in sweet, meterless phrases, stretching silences and giving shape to each line. He's consummately musical in his approach, landing on the next note in the phrase just a millisecond before the last one's done ringing, creating a seamless legato. He does not noodle. He does not make a habit of playing lots of notes in quick succession.

We caught the second half of his concert, in which he applied that lyricism to "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," with a shout out to Ry Cooder for his version and a nod to fellow guitarist David Lindley for having done the piece before Gerhard could get around to it; a medley of The Beatles' 'If I Fell" and "In My Life" introduced as "a couple of old British ballads"; Gerhard's own "On a Pennsylvania Hill" and others. His stage patter is intimate and clever; he introduced his version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" by admitting that though he was not especially religious, he was assuredly "sky-curious."

Appreciated: a fleeting reference to "Beavis and Butthead" that nobody in the audience seemed to get, his writerly description of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series as having created a "nice fire in a wet world," the way he floated his hands above the Weissenborn (an acoustic Hawaiian lap slide) as if he were charming notes out of a theremin. Unappreciated: his cheap shot at hip-hop, which went over swimmingly with the baby boomer contingent nonetheless. For me, too, I missed the bite and strum of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" when rendered by Gerhard (and I'd swear I heard the first two chords of Mitchell's "Amelia" before he started in; bait-and-switch!) Judging by the enthusiastic applause for "Both Sides Now," though, I was clearly in the minority.

Gerhard has the ear and the finesse to reach up and adjust a tuning peg mid-song, he can quote Leo Kottke ("The only thing you'll get from a tuner is an opinion") and ancient Chinese poetry in the same breath and he can do otherworldly things with six strings. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out the rest of the year's lineup.


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