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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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Columnists

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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Monday, December 18, 2017 - 15:00:00

Ex-legislator from Arkansas figures in theft plea in Missouri

An unnamed Arkansas lobbyist and former legislator has been identified as a co-conspirator in a scheme in which a political consultant conspired to take nearly $1 million from a nonprofit for use on illegal political activity.

The AP reports that Donald Andrew Jones, 62, of Willingboro, N.J., has pleaded guilty to conspiring to get $973,000 from Preferred Family Healthcare of Springfield, Mo., to use for lobbying and political contributions. Five unnamed co-conspirators who worked for Preferred Family Health have not been charged. One of those is said to be an Arkansas lobbyist and former legislator.

Preferred Family has been in the news before in relation to questionable political activities. One of its affiliates, Decision Point, which operates mental health and youth services facilities around Arkansas, figures in the pending kickback case against former legislators Micah Neal, who has pleaded guilty, and Jon Woods, who faces trial. According to documents in that case. a lobbyist for Decision Point, Rusty Cranford, arranged for its employees to apply for state surplus money for a corporation he'd created, with kickbacks planned to legislators. The company has denied wrongdoing. Cranford has not been charged. The same case alleges similar kickbacks from money directed to the church-related Ecclesia College in Springdale.

I've reported previously that Tim Summers, a former state legislator from Bentonville and employee of Decision Point, had signed an application for an $80,000 grant to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to poor families and that Rusty Cranford was the responsible agent for the program, which received $19,000.  I can't say if his work in this instance has any relationship to the Springfield case. Many legislators were involved in funneling money to agencies tied to the kickback case. It doesn't mean they did anything wrong, beyond participating in the pork barreling in the first place.

 

Monday, December 18, 2017 - 14:25:00

Monday: An open line and the daily roundup


The Monday open line and the daily news roundup.

 

Monday, December 18, 2017 - 12:51:00

Joseph Jones ousted as Arkansas Baptist College president

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The Board of Trustees  of Arkansas Baptist College has terminated college president, Dr. Joseph Jones, who'd led the campus for about a year.

I was tipped on the firing by an anonymous source while I was out of the country last week. KATV reported the firing on Twitter this morning and I've since confirmed that through an official who said Jones told top officials of his termination by the Board of Trustees at its monthly meeting last Thursday.

Who's in charge of the college now? "We don't know," my source said.

I'm still trying to find an official confirmation from board members, but haven't been able to reach any of them. No general announcement has been made to college staff and students. I've also been unsuccessful so far in reaching Jones by telephone.

This follows a report earlier this month of cash flow problems that delayed staff paychecks this month. That payroll is still delayed.

The college has been coping with financial difficulties since a major growth spurt under the leadership of the presidency of Fitz Hill. Enrollment grew and so do did campus facilities, in part thanks to some significant private donations, but when Hill departed it was still on uncertain footing, despite a major federal loan that paid off private lenders and bought the college time to right finances. Enrollment has fallen and the college is under federal monitoring that delays transfer of federal student payments.

The campus is roiled internally, with a faction supporting Jones and raising questions about continuing influence over the college by people aligned with Hill's tenure. When Hill left, he was said to be expected to take a leadership role in fund-raising for the school. Federal records show no current nonprofit registration for the Arkansas Baptist College Foundation and it is not believed to be currently contributing support to the school.

The college has had recent reviews by a national accrediting agency and the federal Education Department. Sources supportive of Jones said those agencies had made positive remarks about improvements under his tenure.

UPDATE: Dr. Kenneth Harris of Arkadelphia, chair of the board, confirms Jones' termination last week "for cause" and issued a brief prepared statement.

It said the board had "lost confidence in Dr. Jones' leadership and judgment." It said the firing was "predicated on his lack of transparency with the Board on issues that could place the Board and the institution at significant risk of financial and legal jeopardy."

He didn't eleaborate, but Bill Walker, a new member of the Board and a former state legislator and state agency leader, added some details. He said the final issue that led to board action, was the college's falling behind on payment of federal withholding, a serious issue we "have to correct." He confirmed the November payroll was paid late and the December payroll, due to be paid at the end of the month, may be late too unless the college can arrange a short-term loan to cover it. Walker said college "overhead" had to be reduced because of the smaller enrollment, but he also said he hoped to see a return of the recruiting effort of Hill's days as president. Walker also said Jones declined an offer to be allowed to resign rather than be fired.

Board chair Harris said Dr. Howard Gibson, former vice president of academics at the college, will serve as interim president and the Board will launch a search for a new leader "as expeditiously as it can."

On a couple of other points, Harris confirmed that the college foundation currently lacks 501c3 status, but is "in the process of getting it reinstated" and Hill is leading it. He said the foundation lost nonprofit status when it changed focus from an original purpose of providing a vehicle for participation in a new market tax credits plan in which contributors could get tax credits for charitable donations.

He disputed those who saw the move as a return to Hill-era leadership. "Nothing has been determined in terms of personnel changes" except Jones' termination. He also said the college had received no "official word from either entity" on whether recent reviews of finances went well. That they did would just be "reflections" of campus staff who participated in the meeting, not "official feedback."


 

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

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

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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

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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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