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Arkansas Blog

Hourly news and comment

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The guide to Arkansas entertainment

Eat Arkansas

For food lovers

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On art in Arkansas

Street Jazz

A view from Northwest Arkansas

Eat Arkansas

Morningside Bagels in Maumelle is worth a trip

All varieties of bagels and bagel sandwiches, made from scratch.

Food Truck Friday lineup: Cajun, Asian and BBQ

Here's the lineup — including two out-of-towners —  for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership's Food Truck Friday feed from 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. April 28 at Capitol and Main streets: Almost Famous, Black Hound B-B-Q, The Southern Gourmasian and Whole Hog Cafe's food truck.

New in NW: Hawgz, So. Food Co., sit-down TrickDilly's

Three new eateries (and drinkeries) are set to open in NWA, a look at liquor permits on file with the state Alcohol Beverage Control division: Yeehawg, Southern Food Co. and a bricks and mortar TrickDilly.

Dining Review

Bumbling through lunch at Bucanas

April 27, 2017
Bumbling through lunch 
at Bucanas
Taqueria stumbles out of the gate. /more/

Dining Search

A&E Feature

Cool blue

April 27, 2017
Cool blue
A Q&A with author Katie Kitamura. /more/

To-Do List

Alice Cooper at Robinson Center

April 26, 2017
Alice Cooper at Robinson Center
Also, Poetry on Pinnacle, SeanFresh, Fantastic Cinema & Craft Beer Festival, Sinkane, Etsyfest, Alexi Kenney, Monster Truck Jam and more /more/

Columnists

Max Brantley

Executionpalooza

Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate. /more/

Ernest Dumas

Workers stiffed

How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business? /more/

Gene Lyons

O'Reilly's fall

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars. A familiar kind of madness /more/

Movie Reviews

A shoot-'em-up

April 27, 2017
A shoot-'em-up
Ben Wheatley's 'Free Fire' is not much more. /more/

Pearls About Swine

Call to arms

April 27, 2017
Basketball season's behind us, spring football practice hasn't culminated yet, and baseball hasn't quite revved up to the ever-beguiling postseason, so Pearls this go-round is a bit of a hodgepodge. /more/

Blog Roll

Arkansas Blog

Hourly news and comment

Rock Candy

The guide to Arkansas entertainment

Eat Arkansas

For food lovers

Eye Candy

On art in Arkansas

Street Jazz

A view from Northwest Arkansas

Arkansas Blog

Saturday, April 29, 2017 - 17:55:45

UPDATE: Fourth death confirmed in Polk County; suspect identified


UPDATE: The body of Reilly Scarborough has been found, bringing to four the number of family homicides in Polk County. The nine-year-old was found in woods west of Hatfield.

Here's what we reported earlier, with some updates:

The Polk County Pulse Facebook page
posted the video from Mena of Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer reporting Friday on the discovery of the body of a two-year-old girl in a developing multiple homicide case.

A search continues today for a missing boy, just under 10 years old.

Bethany Jo Wester, 43, was found dead in a creek near Cove Tuesday. Her uncle, Steven Payne, 66, was found dead later in a home in Hatfield. Wester's two children, Reilly Scarborough, 9, and Acelyn Wester, 2, hadn't been seen since Sunday. Acelyn Wester's body was found near Cove Friday. Searchers still are looking for her brother.

BRIAN TRAVIS: Suspect in four slayings.
  • BRIAN TRAVIS: Suspect in four slayings.
In his emotional statement Friday, the sheriff said authorities are not talking about potential suspects or manner of death, but the cases are all viewed as homicides. Events this week have also included the arrest of Bethany Jo Wester's  boyfriend, Brian Bliss Travis, 37, on a drug paraphernalia charge.  UPDATE: The sheriff said at a news conference this afternoon that they expected to charge him in the deaths.

The Polk County Pulse, covering the news conference, says the child's father, Travis, assisted authorities in finding bodies. Here's video of the sheriff's news conference. He didn't discuss the means of death or provide any details about the series of events, except to say he expected capital murder charges to be filed against Travis. The sound is marred by wind.



 

Saturday, April 29, 2017 - 17:55:40

The Saturday open line

click to enlarge FAYETEVILLE FLOAT: The rain brought out a big rubber ducky - CURT LANNING/KNWA NEWS
  • Curt Lanning/KNWA News
  • FAYETEVILLE FLOAT: The rain brought out a big rubber ducky

Here's our Saturday open line. Barely a drop in Little Rock so far, but the Northwest is getting some of the expected rain as the Fayetteville street scene suggests.

 

Saturday, April 29, 2017 - 17:55:33

Baker Kurrus: Opposes Little Rock School District tax proposal

click to enlarge BAKER KURRUS: Says no to Little Rock School District tax vote on May 9. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • BAKER KURRUS: Says no to Little Rock School District tax vote on May 9.

Baker Kurrus
has written a monumental essay explaining why he opposes the proposal in the May 9 special Little Rock School District election to continue an existing 12.4 mills of property tax for 14 years to support a new construction bond issue and continue the escalating hidden support the tax provides for operations ($26 million a year currently).

Kurrus speaks with  authority. He's a Little Rock lawyer and businessman who  long served on the Little Rock School Board and spent a year as its superintendent after the state takeover before being fired by Education Commissioner Johnny Key for his opposition to continued charter school expansion in the district.

Kurrus has circulated his essay, more than 4,000 words, to people who've asked him where he stands on the school election. The group that is pushing the tax increase had sought to enlist Kurrus' support, but I'd learned earlier he'd declined because of misgivings that grew to flower here. They include the cost of new debt and the "almost certain" loss of revenue from continuing declining enrollment, particularly to the charter schools that have already  damaged the district. He believes the budget should be balanced and enrollment stabilized before the district floats another major bond issue. He says, too, that the southwest high school could be built without the bond issue envisioned in the election through budget controls and second lien bonds. He faults the state Board of Education, now in control of the district, for its failure to consider the enrollment and other figures he's compiled here.

His full essay follows. The opening summary:

I have never voted against a school tax in my life, but I will be voting against the debt service millage extension. This is a financial matter, and it needs to be analyzed in financial terms. Thus far there has been almost no financial analysis. Most of the proponents talk in general terms of providing new facilities for students, which is laudable and something we would all endorse. However, the matter needs to be assessed from a financial point of view. It would do no student any good if the bonds are issued and LRSD is so strapped financially that it cannot provide the educational services necessary for its students.
And, from his conclusion:

Although it is wonderful to have nice and new facilities, the problems of LRSD will not be solved by this borrowing. Millions of dollars have been spent on facilities without any major impacts, and academic performance in LRSD is not correlated to the age or condition of its facilities. Spending more money on facilities district-wide, while enrollment is declining, is a mistake. Any money spent on schools that are at the end of their economic lives is a waste.

LRSD spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Franklin in the last several years, even though two much newer schools very close to Franklin had enough empty seats to accommodate all of the Franklin students. LRSD should not make that mistake ever again.

A plan for new facilities needs to be comprehensive, and should be based on a framework of new facilities. In summary, it would be imprudent to make such a large financial commitment without a comprehensive plan for educating the students in Pulaski County.

The State Board of Education actually agreed that such a plan was needed, and appointed a committee to work on the plan. The State Board then reneged on its commitment, and the excellent committee which was appointed to construct the plan has been unsupported. It would be a mistake to act without a plan.

We need comprehensive and clearly articulated policies which address these issues. The simple repetition of a mantra, “competition and choice,” is valueless.
Here's the full essay, in PDF form, so you can copy it and mail it to those who are interested.
In short: "Borrowing is not a strategy to solve spending issues.

And, he comments sharply:

In summary, the state has taken over LRSD, empowered “competition” by allowing magnet charters to take low cost students, increased LRSD’s percentages of poor, disabled and non-English speaking students, and Little Rock taxpayers pay all of the costs. 

.The full essay follows:

/more/  

 

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Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 16:38:00

Review: Boston at Verizon Arena

click to enlarge BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson


Just another band out of Boston sang “Don’t Look Back” during its rock ‘n’ roll heyday (circa 1976-87), but forgive for a moment if I look back.

I’d have given about anything for sixth-row tickets to a Boston show some 40 years ago. They played Pine Bluff, my hometown, when I was off at college; they’ve toured with other big pop-rock acts of their era since – Styx, Kansas, et al. – and I’d missed those shows as well
.

Fast-forward almost four decades, and Boston mastermind Tom Scholz (MIT grad and genius mind at that) is still taking his band out on the road with five other faces who weren’t there in the 1970s. The show promoter provided those choice sixth-row seats for Wednesday’s show in Verizon Arena. But Boston doesn’t play full-size arenas, much less stadiums, anymore, and Verizon had cut itself down to its theater-format size. It still manages to offer an arena feel inside a space that’s more like Robinson Center across the river.

Boston’s anthem rock may not draw the numbers of the late 1970s shows, but the music is still suited for arenas, though the current “Hyper Space Tour” is hitting small casino show halls and theaters like the Saenger in Mobile, Ala. Verizon snagged a show a day after Boston played the Walmart AMP in Rogers, in fact (3,500 seats under a tent, plus an uncovered grass section). The band brought no opener, just the five musicians who accompany Scholz, the versatile wizard.

Anyway, four decades may have aged Scholz’s face some, but seemingly not his dark hair or the rest of his tall, lanky self. Scholz donned gray cargo shorts and a charcoal sleeveless T that read “Sea Shepherd.” His band had that 50-60-year-old look about them as well, except for the pretty and energetic Beth Cohen, a Miami-based multi-instrumentalist (she stayed mostly on a synth in the background, but occasionally played guitar, even providing twin lead harmony once with Scholz). Cohen also was showcased a couple of times on lead vocals as well as helping provide the high-end harmonies for which the band has long been noted.

Tommy DeCarlo, whose story of joining Boston is not unlike Arnel Pineda’s when he was chosen to be the next Steve Perry in Journey, stood in ably for the late, great Brad Delp (he left us at his own hands in 2007), the voice on all those Boston hits of yesteryear. Only a couple of times did we wince a little when the falsetto eluded DeCarlo, such as on the climax to “Don’t Look Back,” but he was spot-on for the two-plus hour show.

Scholz brought an array of experienced sidemen: Gary Pihl on lead guitar stage left (Scholz stayed stage right) was the perfect complement to Scholz on electric or acoustic guitars, as he’s been since 1985 – and according to Scholz is the only band member besides him who can operate the massive amount of technical wiring, amps and boxes that lined the back stage. For the 1987 hit “Amanda” at the halfway point, they both retreated to the area just in front of drummer Curly Smith’s glass-walled pit with acoustic guitars while DeCarlo showed out on a song he figured help spark romance that resulted in some of the younger fans in the audience. Former Stryper bassist Tracy Ferrie provided a steady thumping to all those thump-heavy rockers. Every Boston band member at times was helping provide the soaring harmonies that made those Scholz-penned anthems stand out among the others beginning in late 1976 with Boston’s massive-selling debut album.

And while Scholz happily let everyone in the band have more than a few moments to self-indulge in a 22-song set and “Party” for its encore, it was hard not to keep eyes focus on his guitar fingering leads or on the time he took to his three-level keyboard/organ setup, placed in back between Cohen’s rig and Smith’s drum kit.

There were videos behind them that referenced Apollo 11 before its launch to the moon, and later the launch itself, plus all kinds of references to space and fiery planets and stars and the like. We guess it was Scholz’s MIT background that was responsible for such album-cover images as the guitar-shaped spaceship. Boston’s music was almost otherworldly when it debuted, and it still is clearly, uniquely Boston, as in the band. Obviously, they were not just another band out of Boston, and a two-thirds full “theater” appreciated nearly every moment.

Scholz, in one of the few moments that one song didn’t move directly into another, introduced one of the “newer” (well, 2013) songs, “Heaven on Earth.” And almost immediately, a crowd that was energized by an opening triad of “Rock and Roll Band,” “Feeling Satisfied” and “Smokin’” began to look for their seats. But that proved only momentary when the fans heard the familiar first acoustic chords of “Peace of Mind,” and off we were again on rockets of power chords, six-part harmonies and twin-guitar leads. Scholz and crew dipped into a deep canon to pull out some less-familiar songs (at least to a few fans around me) from their 1986 “Third Stage” album and 1993’s “Walk On.” “Walk On,” in fact was a symphonic-like tour de force between the big hits, with Scholz going wild on keyboards. But, to play for two-plus hours, they needed more than those treasured albums 1 (“Boston”) and 2 (“Don’t Look Back”) of Boston’s first two years.

As it was, nobody left the arena and into a suddenly chilly April night saying, “I wished they’d played [song name].” Boston played it all, whether you wanted it or not. Most was wanted.




 

Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 10:12:00

Jonathan Demme's Arkansas connection

click to enlarge REX FEATURES
  • Rex Features
With news of Jonathan Demme's passing, Arkansas Times movie reviewer Guy Lancaster called our attention to the acclaimed director's work on a film called "Fighting Mad," which was filmed in parts of rural Washington County, with scenes shot in Fort Smith, Clarksville and Fayetteville.

From the Encyclopedia of Arkansas's entry on the film:

Local people played small parts, and Gino Franco, a local child, had a major role as the hero’s young son. In the DVD commentary, Corman and Demme note as major assets the film’s attractive locations; the cinematography by Michael Watkins (credited) and Tak Fujimoto (uncredited due to union rules); and the local color, including Ozarks music. The final shootout was staged in a house designed by Arkansas architect Fay Jones.

A Variety (April 28, 1976) reviewer wrote that the “totally predictable” film “doesn’t waste time on rounded characters or motivational development, but delivers its full quota of explosions, car chases, stabbings and other turn-ons for the vigilante mentality that seems to have appeal today.” The reviewer notes that “Demme has a good eye for visual detail” and concludes that the “best thing about the film is the moody lensing [photography] of Michael Watkins, which brings out the alluring qualities of the land.”




 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 11:44:00

'Disturber of the Silence': A Q&A with Marita Golden

click to enlarge marita-golden.jpg

Marita Golden – teacher, lecturer, author and literary activist – is the co-founder and President Emeritus of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, an institution founded in 1990 with the goal of fostering black writers and preserving the legacy of black literature. Her memoir "Migrations of the Heart" drew heavily on Golden's experience as an activist in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, her time as a journalist in New York and her four years in Nigeria. Author and activist Alice Walker said of the work: "It is a book all women will find useful and compelling and all men who love women will find disturbing."

Now, Golden's focused her attention on what she calls a "uniquely ugly and challenging" aspect of family life: the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease. Her newest book, "The Wide Circumference of Love: A Novel," explores the ways in which one family grapples with the destructive effects of early-onset Alzheimer's. I talked with Golden last month ahead of her appearance Thursday, April 27 at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 6:30 p.m. as part of the Arkansas Literary Festival.


You founded the Hurston/Wright Foundation over 25 years ago. Do any names or any shifts in attitude spring to mind for you as a sign of the foundation’s success?


I think I’m proudest of the fact that — even though our reach is pretty extensive — we have a summer writer’s workshop that’s hosted over 1,000 writers. We have an annual award that recognizes the international community of black writers, but I think I’m probably proudest of the award for college writers, which was our first program. We’ve been able to recognize very early in their careers dozens of writers who have gone on to be published, many of them to wide acclaim. So I think for me, the college award is probably closest to my heart, because of what it means to these writers very early in their career.


I read a phrase on your website, in which you say: “The writer is supposed to be brave and daring and to ask the questions others fear asking and to say if need be that the emperor has no clothes.” Because it was only this week that Congresswoman Maxine Waters and journalist April Ryan were ignored or denigrated for asking those kinds of questions on behalf of the public, your words immediately brought them to mind. How did our patriotism become so fragile that it cannot even be questioned by the press?


It’s many things. It is sexist, and it’s just politics. Politics is dirty. What you do when you don’t want to acknowledge the language or statements of your opponent — in this case, Bill O’Reilly didn’t want to hear what Maxine Waters had to say — so he put her down in a totally different area in a way that would garner immediate attention. So, her remarks get lost. Her remarks get completely corrupted. So, it’s an old game, it’s a sexist game and it’s nothing new. It’s a continuing fight. Same thing about Hillary Clinton. “Her hair is crazy.” It was implied that Bill Clinton should have had an affair because she was “so unattractive.” This is politics. And I think that people like Maxine Waters — they’re thick-skinned, or they wouldn’t have achieved as much as they have.


You have said you like to think of yourself as a “literary disturber of the peace.” Does that task feel more immediate to you now, in the shadow of this administration?


Sure, but when that happened, I made it clear; I decided what I was gonna do, and I had my own agenda that I was gonna stick to. I was gonna use my novels to talk about Alzheimer’s disease and African-Americans and Alzheimer’s. No matter what Trump did, I was gonna stay focused on that. So, I consider myself disturbing not so much the peace, but disturbing the silence around this disease.


Your latest novel, “The Wide Circumference of Love,” explores the turmoil and surprise that comes from having a loved one with Alzheimer’s. You wrote on your blog, “Even when their personality has been radically altered by the disease people with Alzheimer’s are still human and have human hearts and souls that are both a whisper and a scream. Those caretakers I met who experienced grace no longer asked why. They only asked how.” I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there’s a lesson there whose substance extends far beyond Alzheimer’s.


Alzheimer’s is an opportunity to discover who you are, how you are when you face a crisis. It could be cancer, it could be the loss of a job, it could be divorce. We think of Alzheimer’s in a particular way because it is a devastating disease; unlike most other diseases, there’s no prevention, there’s no cure. It’s the most impactful and most expensive. The least funded. The least talked about. And the way in which it impacts families — it takes down the person with Alzheimer’s, it takes down their children. It’s really a uniquely ugly and challenging disease. At the same time, the way we respond to it is the way we respond to all crises. The thing that I learned from talking to so many people and writing the book was that there can be grace in these very difficult moments, whatever they are.

Even in dealing with Trump, there’s a lot that people who are more progressive and who want to go in a different direction, there’s a lot that we’re gonna learn. The amount of organizing that’s going on under the radar around the country is just absolutely amazing. We’ve been here. We’ve been in this place before. Trump isn’t the first manifestation of the retrograde. And he’s part of America, his consciousness is a big part of America, so let’s acknowledge that, too.

So, life goes on. It continues, and for people who are committed to getting through these years, it’s just finding your focus. What’s gonna keep you strong? What’s gonna keep you feeling empowered? And for me, coming out of that novel and said, "Okay, I’m an activist on this." I’m still going to be talking wherever I can and to whomever I can about this issue. You find out how effective you can be in the midst of the storm.


You said in that same interview that you wish the black community supported serious fiction more. How do you see that happening? Where do we start?


Nothing happens in a vacuum, and serious literature has a real problem in this country anyway. A typical literary novelist may sell 6 or 7 thousand copies of a book, even after they’ve won a major award. It’s not unusual for those big major awards to still yet — maybe they sell 10,000 copies. They may sell 15,000 copies — in a country of 350 million people. So the challenge for the larger society is this appreciation of literary fiction, and among African-Americans, I think that since I wrote that, we’re actually moving in that direction. The work of the Foundation and other organizations are creating the next generation of writers.

You also have a lot of African-American book clubs around the country, and they’re growing in sophistication in terms of the types of books that they wanna read. The commercial fiction that was really popular about a decade ago was sort of overshadowing a lot of literary African-American writers, and some of that’s gone by the wayside. I think things are improving gradually, but we’re just not a culture, period, that really appreciates serious literary fiction and non-fiction, so those books that find a huge audience are really rare, given that there are millions of books published in this country every year. I’d like to see kids in school reading more literary books, more whole books. I did a presentation in a school one time, and a young man told me he got through high school without ever reading a whole novel. He’d read chapters, but never read a whole novel.


I wanna quote from your essay “My Black Hair,” part of a compilation called "Me, My Hair and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession." You say: “The process of losing the straightness of the hot comb was even called 'going back.' I got the message early on. I was not to face the world until my hair looked as near as it could to 'good hair,' also known as 'White girl’s hair.' Is it any wonder that I soon developed the habit of standing in front of my mother’s gilt-edged mirror with her silk scarves pinned on my head and imagining that those scarves were my real hair and that I had been transformed into Cinderella and Snow White? I spent countless hours alone in front of that mirror, hypnotized by what I wished for and what my imagination had made real. To have a White girl’s hair.”

How does that change? What does that look like? Where are companies — maybe Disney or Pixar or Marvel — falling short for girls? That is, how do black girls begin to have an appreciation of their own beauty that is not rooted in Disney-fied Eurocentrism?


Before we look at them, I would look within our own community. We need more diverse images. We need to define more widely what is beautiful; what is “good hair.” I think one of the reasons people like Maxine Waters will wear wigs - and they will tell you this — is that very often in the white corporate world, the white power world, they have to conform to a white standard of beauty. That’s just the reality, or they’re not taken seriously, or people are afraid of them. So I think that the more conversation about it, the more you see of it. That’s what you saw in the '60s, all of a sudden everybody was wearing their hair natural. You saw that. The frequency of it legitimized it.

And I don’t think every black woman has to have natural hair. The beauty of black hair is that it can be so many different things. It can be braided. It can be straightened. You can put weaves in it. You can wear it natural. But there still remains a dangerous belief about what is the best hair, and I don’t know that African-Americans can say to Disney, “Oh, you should do more.” Maybe, yes, but I’d like to look at ourselves first.





 

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