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Dining Review

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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Arkansas Blog

Monday, December 18, 2017 - 11:34:00

Trump disclaims responsibility for unqualified judicial nominees

click to enlarge SEN. KENNEDY: The Republican ripped a Trump juidicial nominee for lack of qualifications.
  • SEN. KENNEDY: The Republican ripped a Trump juidicial nominee for lack of qualifications.
Have you seen the video of Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy's exposure of the lack of qualifications for a Trump judicial nominee, Matthew Spencer Petersen? The nominee gave candid responses on his lack of experience and even knowledge of some common terms of litigation.

The Advocate in Baton Rouge reports on an interview Kennedy gave WWL about Petersen, a former FCC chairman nominated for a D.C. district judgeship.

Kennedy told WWL-TV that Trump did not personally interview Petersen and that the nominees were chosen by members of the president's staff.

“(Trump) has told me, ‘Kennedy, when some of my guys send somebody over who is not qualified, you do your job,” Kennedy told WWL.

...n his interview with WWL, Kennedy said that he did not know before the hearing that Petersen was inexperienced for the position.

"Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy told the station. “And he has no litigation experience. And my job on the judiciary committee is to catch him. I would strongly suggest he not give up his day job.”
We shall see. The Republicans in the Senate have voted in lockstep for other thoroughly unqualified candidates. And there's apparently an inexhaustible supply of legal ideologues ready to do the work of rewriting law to suit Republican talking points


Monday, December 18, 2017 - 10:24:00

Bobby McCallister resigns judgeship as agreed following tax charges

Bobby McCallister resigned his circuit judgeship Friday as he'd previously agreed to settle a complaint by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

He'd been suspended from the bench when an investigation began of his admission in his divorce case that he hadn't filed state and federal income tax returns for a number of years.

The formal completion of the deal was filed Friday. McCallister, who'd been a judge in Saline County since January 2009, will not be eligible to serve as a judge again. A criminal case is pending against McCallister, who still retains a law license. Trial is set Tuesday and Wednesday. The state Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct oversees lawyer licensure.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently named Barbara Webb, wife of state Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb, to replace McCallister until a successor can be elected.


Monday, December 18, 2017 - 10:01:00

Court test possible on Razorback spending accountability

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A Little Rock lawyer indicates a court test is likely of the Razorback Foundation's refusal to provide information about its financial deals with Razorback athletic department officials, from the athletic director to coaches.

Chris Corbitt, representing Kevin Lemley, has requested records from the Foundation about loans made to fired athletic Director Jeff Long to purchase whole life insurance policies. The existence of the loan was disclosed, but not detailed, in the publicly available federal 990 tax form filed annually by the Foundation. Corbitt wants to know if loans of $450,000 and $500,000 were forgiven on Long's recent termination and other information about ownership and beneficiaries of the policy.

The Foundation declined to provide the information, claiming exemption from the state Freedom of Information Act. Director Scott Varady said the foundation does not receive public money or support. I asked Corbitt when he copied me on the request if he was prepared to sue if the request was denied, as I expected it to be, and he said, "Hell, yes."

Meanwhile, the University of Arkansas has responded to a similar FOI request with some answers and some documentation.

Rebecca Morrison, who handles UA FOI requests wrote to Corbitt:

At various times and as the letters provided reflect, the University requested that the Razorback Foundation establish three (3) deferred compensation plans for Jeff Long. These obviously predate the current administration, but apparently were financial interest vehicles mutually agreed upon between the Foundation and Mr. Long and were funded by the Foundation, not the University.

It is the University’s understanding with regard to the first two deferred compensation plans that the Razorback Foundation agreed to provide the funding as requested by Mr. Long. It is also the University’s understanding that the Razorback Foundation’s Form 990 lists the payments as “loans” for accounting purposes, and that these sums were not direct loans to Mr. Long. The Foundation has advised that these sums relate to payments made on behalf of Mr. Long to purchase split-dollar life insurance policies. The sums listed on the 990 apparently represent the Razorback Foundation’s initial funding to purchase the policies, along with interest. According to the Razorback Foundation, the Foundation is the collateral assignee on these policies and will be repaid the amount it used to purchase the policies upon the death of Mr. Long.

With regard to Mr. Long’s third deferred compensation plan, the University asked the Razorback Foundation to fund $250,000 towards the plan. Mr. Long requested that the Razorback Foundation put the funds in an annuity policy, and the Razorback Foundation apparently did so. The Foundation has advised that this annuity policy vested in Mr. Long on the date of his termination for convenience.

The University does not have any record which reflects who the beneficiary of the policy is or from whom the policy was purchased.
Here's the letter from the UA to Long detailing its expectations of benefits to be provided by the Razorback Foundation as part of his pay package.

Let me boil this down and provide some history. The Razorback Foundation once operated within the athletic department. I was part of an FOI request for its records in the 1980s that changed all that. Attorney General Steve Clark opined that the records  were public. Hog powers, then as now, didn't want them released. A UA Board member was sicced on Arkansas Gazette publisher William Malone to get him to withdraw the FOI request. We didn't. We got the records. Subsequently, the Foundation moved off campus and took other steps to shield itself from public inspection.

Until recently, most mainstream media accepted this setup meekly rather than rile the potentates of Pigland. The Foundation relies on private contributions and, significantly, on added payments from premium seating and parking at football and basketball games. The Foundation may get no public dollars, but it profits handsomely for its franchise to extract payments from people who attend sporting events in publicly owned facilities of a public university. Ticket handling alone requires the participation of public employees.

But the obvious public connections are the pay promises made to coaches and athletic directors by the university. Those deals are struck in consultation with foundation officials. They commit the Foundation to meeting terms and the Foundation accepts those terms, understanding that sufficient money will flow to meet those obligations. John Watkins, a former UA law professor who wrote the book on FOI law in Arkansas, told me years ago that the Foundation's claim of exemption from the sunshine law wouldn't stand up in court.  Too many entanglements between public and "private." The Democrat-Gazette, which has now decided to seek the records on the payout to fired football coach Bret Bielema, wrote the other day about a North Carolina study that said the veil of athletic financial secrecy has been torn away from similar operations in at least 11 states.

The public deserves to know how money flowing from a public institution's activities is spent. The Foundation is now on the hook for potentially more than $19 million in contract buyouts for the fired athletic director, head football coach and a raft of assistant coaches. Were those good deals? Will seat premiums be rising to meet the payouts?

The UA controls how the Razorback Foundation must spend money. It should follow that the public is entitled to know the details. Perhaps Chris Corbitt will get there if he sues, though an elected judiciary can be influenced by politics, too. It won't be easy in any case. Between the UA, the Razorback Foundation and the big money interests (think Waltons) who prefer that their deals with the university be kept private, there'll be no shortage of secrecy-defending lawyers in the courtroom.

This is a case that should be settled by a famous rule enunciated by a former Hog coach. Remember the Do Right Rule?


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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 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 makes you feel good physically to sing....spiritually, emotionally, my show, especially when I'm playing solo, if I put a couple of vocal tunes 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" 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'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'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. 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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