Welcome to this blog which is dedicated to providing a forum for a civil discourse on a variety of issues to try and make our society a truly better place for all. While the views expressed are strictly my personal opinions, please feel free to join in on these conversations accepting the premises that every attempt will be made to ensure that nothing but the truth be spoken and the truth be heard.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love"

It all began with a fairly simple question from an old and dear friend who had inquired as to what my family linage was.  Yes, I had a vague notion that my father's ancestors for sure came from Germany and England, and that my mother's ancestors also came from England and perhaps Germany, but beyond that I had very little knowledge.  However, my lame ability to adequately respond to that question lit a spark in me to find out more about where I came from, which led me to digging into boxes of old family files and pictures that had lain dormant for years to find the answer.  Little did I know when I started this journey that a totally disconnected study of three books of the Old Testament would interject itself into this process, but more about that later.

One of the first surprises to come to my attention was the fact that the English ancestors from both my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather's families came to America from England in the early 1600's.  Sure, I had seen the same old family photographs now in my possession of all great-grandparents taken at various times during the 19th century, but I had just assumed that for practical purposes that was where my history began.  To learn that there was traceable evidence that confirmed the existence of ancestors on our shores 200 years earlier was a huge revelation to me.  Unfortunately, I was not so fortunate with my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother's families, as the early 1800's were as far back as I could find any written record in my files of their existence on this continent.  However, in the case of my paternal grandfather, the records were much more comprehensive and detailed, thanks to the writing prowess of an elderly great aunt, thus giving me greater insight into my father's history.  Consequently, in the interest of time and space, I will concentrate solely on my paternal heritage up to the beginning of the 20th century for this first of what may become many chapters to answer that simple question posed above.

It all began in Friedelsheim, Bavaria, Germany where my great-grandfather, Jacob Lichty, one of eight children was born on May 6, 1826, to John, a watchmaker, and Elizabeth, a homemaker.  Like most immigrants coming to our shores in the 1800's seeking more freedom, the entire family made it to America in 1833, traveling up the Hudson River to Albany, New York, thence through the Erie Canal, completed just eight years earlier, to Buffalo, New York and finally across Lake Erie to Cleveland, Ohio, home of several family friends from Germany who had previously settled there.  Unfortunately, John fell ill early on and died shortly after making it to Ohio at the age of 42.  But like most immigrant families at the time, the surviving family began farming which eventually led my great-grandfather, Jacob, to purchase some rich bottom land in Gnadenhutten, the second oldest city in Ohio.  But also like many individuals of that era, Jacob's life was not without tragedy, losing two of his seven children to diphtheria and later his young wife, Christena at age 36 to unknown causes.  But as was also common back then, he soon remarried and he and his second wife, another Elizabeth, interestingly Christena's sister, had five more children, among whom was my grandfather, Ernest, and his sister, Bertha, who was the author mentioned above of this history.

By Bertha's account, Jacob was a kind and thoughtful person, always remembering the birthdays of all ten children, comforting them through their many illnesses and ferrying them when necessary to and from school during those many cold and snowy Ohio winters in either a large farm wagon or bob sled pulled by a double team of horses.  It was also during these cold wintry days that he would "grease the shoes" of his children who often made that two mile walk to school to make the shoes softer and more pliable, as well as to make them last longer.  To accomplish this task he had the village tin maker fabricate him a small copper can with a spout in which he would warm a mixture of grease and tallow with which he covered the shoes.  Then they would be placed near the coal stove at night to make them even more comfortable for the children the next day.  As a side note, years ago my father gave me that very can, which I treasure to this day.  But all of this love and affection for his family could not spare him further tragedy in almost losing my grandfather, Ernest, to inflammatory rheumatism.  In fact it was Ernest's deteriorating health that eventually led the Lichty family to Arkansas in the early 1900's to seek relief in the warm baths of Hot Springs.  And then there was, Anna, his and Elizabeth's first-born daughter who moved to Alaska as a religious missionary, a long distance separation that brought much sorrow to them both with, in their own words, "the distance being so great and the traveling so uncertain".   

While not a highly educated man in the formal sense, Jacob was a self-taught man who prided himself on conversation and never lacked for expressive words and sentences when visiting with the educated clergymen who would come to the village to take charge of the Moravian church which he faithfully attended.  As a deeply religious man he would conduct family worship twice a day, always saying the prayers in his native German regardless of who might be visiting in his home at the time.  He died on January 26, 1909, as he had lived, "easily and gently".  To quote from his obituary, "Mr. Lichty was a good citizen and neighbor, an honor to his community and, in so far as mortals may be, to his God.  To a rare degree he was genial, kind and helpful.  His virtues were positive, unmarred by glaring faults.  He weighed his words as if each were a precious jewel.   He was a modest man never seeking to push himself into the public eye.  He lived a quiet life.  Nevertheless, he lived as if conscious that the scrutiny of the World was upon him, reminding one of him who prayed for grace to do all the good he could do without knowing it."       

Now, just what does all of this have to do with the Old Testament, with particular emphasis on Ecclesiastes, as well as the title of this blog?   While the exact authorship of Ecclesiastes is not known, it is thought by many to have been at the very least influenced by King Solomon, the wisest of all ancient biblical kings.  And like many books of scripture, it is open to various interpretations, one of which is that our time on earth is much like mist or vapor, very temporary and not very meaningful.   As such, our beginning and our end have no great significance in the larger scheme of things, so one should not be consumed by them.  Rather, we should just eat, drink and be merry and enjoy the life which we have been given whatever its length.  I've always thought that to be a fairly limited and  hedonistic interpretation, filled with risk and danger not only to one's existence on earth but to one's soul if there is any rationale for an afterlife.  But the thought did occur to me as I began this genealogical journey of why bother investing all of this time and energy exploring history and heredity if in the end our existence does not matter.  Ultimately, I decided it does matter, and it matters a lot.  For one thing, an exploration of our past forces us to understand and appreciate the many sacrifices our forefathers paid to get us where we are today.  In so doing it also goes a long way to explain why we are who we are.  And, finally, it might just give us insight into some principles which we all could apply to today's living and experiences.  A clear example of the latter for me was the life of my great-grandfather, Jacob, and how his deep faith in the Moravian Church played such an important part in his enduring the many, many heartbreaks and challenges of life in the 19th century.  In fact his church's motto, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love" would seem to serve as an excellent guide for our national leaders to follow as they struggle to build a consensus to address the many problems facing our country in this 21st century.      



Friday, October 19, 2012

Do We Want a President, or Do We Want a Boss?

Having weathered these past few months of presidential campaign rhetoric from both sides to the point of numbness, I, like most Americans, can hardly wait until the results of November 6th become history and we can then focus our attention on the many other important issues facing our country.  However, one thing that this particular campaign has caused me to focus on is a question I have pondered for many years and that is "do businessmen really make great political leaders"?

My first experience with this even being an issue was in 1966 when Raymond Rebsamen, a much respected business leader in our state ran for governor of Arkansas.  I vividly remember being impressed with his campaign vision of "Reach with Rebsamen" which projected him as one who had been very successful in the business world and wanted to bring that same talent and acumen to state government and make it more efficient.  As a young man trying to develop my own business career, his message had great resonance with me so I voted for him.  He ultimately lost to another well known and successful businessman, Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican, who Mr. Rebsamen, a Democrat, himself described as someone who "served our state well", and he did.  Subsequently, we have had a series of businessmen who have sought that same office with a mixed bag of successes and failures.

But throughout these many election cycles both at the state and national level, I cannot recall when there has been as much emphasis placed on business experience being such a dominant qualifier as in the current presidential election.  It's as if one's personal net worth is the only thing that counts.  The main thing wrong with that criterion is that there is another side to businessmen that does not always render them as being the best qualified to serve in public office.  For starters, many seem to share the same linear mindset of maximizing profits at all cost, as well as possessing the singular power to make whatever decisions are necessary to achieve that end, with little or no responsibility to answer for their actions other than to their boards of directors, all of whom have been chosen by them.  If labor costs can be reduced in another country, go there.  If an employee's production quota goes down, fire him.  If a plant is not profitable, close it.  There is no public debate about these decisions or their impact on communities, society or national loyalty.  They are just simply coldly calculated business decisions based on one's sole desire to increase the bottom line.  Seemingly built into the DNA of these same corporate executives is a tendency to bark an order and expect immediate compliance by all underlings, no questions asked.  The problem with applying these same business executive attributes to government is that a whole slew of other considerations have to be factored into the decision making process because the end result is a broad public policy that applies to all citizens and not just a single corporate enterprise.

For one, there is a vast body of laws, rules and regulations that have been established by congress over the past 250 years, not to mention the Constitution, that must be respected and adhered to in making such decisions.  What's good for the bottom line does not always translate into what's best for the public at large.  Just witness the $16 trillion debt that has accrued over two administrations for a variety of complex reasons not to be explained here, but clearly resulted in funding many things important to the fabric of America, including stabilizing the economy and supporting social programs for those in need, both significant and valid roles of government.  To address these many needs of a nation requires formulating sound and reasonable public policy issues, getting the support of the American people and then persuading a wildly divergent group of other elected officials to approve these initiatives.  In other words, it requires political tact to form a consensus, artful skills not necessarily developed in corporate America.  Just think of it this way, if America were a corporation run by a business executive, we would have been declared bankrupt, shut down and sold off in pieces to the highest bidder long ago.  Consequently, just running government operations in the most efficient manner financially, particularly in stressful economic times like we have experienced these past four years, is not the primary role of government, as there are way too many other responsibilities which have to be met that may not always pass the cost/benefit test often times used in the business world. 

The contrast between these two approaches to the decision making process could not have been more clearly demonstrated than during the last two presidential debates where aggression appears to have been the measure by which effective leadership was being judged.  Debate rules to which both candidates had agreed, including not invading each others' space, no pointing fingers at your rival and refraining from asking each other questions, were blindly ignored, principally by the one participant who keeps touting his business credentials.  Hopefully, our nation will be spared such rude bullyism in next Tuesday's final debate and we will be allowed to gauge the true, meaningful and relevant qualifications of the two candidates in a calm and rational environment.  As James Lipton, Dean Emeritus of the Actors Studio in New York, most notably concluded this week on MSNBC's October 17th, HARDBALL program, "Do we want a president, or do we want a boss?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Role of Government

With fewer than 90 days now left before this nation can finally put our latest presidential election behind us, it might be useful to examine the central question that is at the heart of all the vitriol which has spewed from both sides over these past few months - i.e. just what is the role of government in our lives?  On the right you have the popular position that was advanced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980's that government is the problem and needs to get out of the way of private enterprise.  That spawned "Starve the Beast", "Trickle Down" and "Compassionate Conservatism" policies which I think have been abject failures.  On the left you have the position that government is the solution to our many problems and needs to be even more active in framing policies that improve our well being.  "The New Deal", The New Frontier" and "The Great Society" come to mind, but they came with great financial costs.  While this basic divide is not new, as even the framers of our constitution bickered over the same issue, what is different now is the total polarization of both sides that has created absolute gridlock and inaction at the very time we need our congress to be addressing full time the many profound issues that currently face our nation.  Instead they decide to take a five week recess. 

While I do not pretend to have the ultimate answer to what the role of government should be, some very qualified individuals have provided us with a prism through which we might at least begin to rationally examine this question.   In this regard perhaps the best place to start is with David Wessel's July 31st interview on NPR's Fresh Air program discussing his new book Red Ink about the federal budget debate.  Go to http://www.npr.org/2012/07/31/157610155/facing-the-fiscal-cliff-congress-next-showdown and listen to the entire discussion, but his main thesis is that unless something is done before December 31st of this year we face a "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and draconian spending cuts that he likens to pulling the trigger on a loaded gun.  Furthermore, he blames this potential crisis on the fundamental impasse on the role of government emphasized by the central question posed in this blog - one side wants less government, one side wants more.  While we all are aware of the recent events that have led us to this precipice (e.g. two unfunded wars, reduced taxes, prescription benefits not paid for and a horrible economic crisis unlike any since the 1930's), some either do not understand or do not care about the true consequences of the political paralysis which has gripped our national legislative process due in large measure to a new wave of congressmen who are willing to risk everything just to advance their ideology.  And now that one of those ideologues, Paul Ryan, has been chosen as Mitt Romney's running mate, this divide is now going to be made even more prominent because, in effect, Mr. Romney has now made Mr. Ryan's proposed Path to Prosperity budget his.  As such, it becomes the centerpiece of Mr. Romney's agenda and, therefore, his vision for the role of government.

For those who may not know, Mr. Ryan wants to essentially gut Medicare as we know it, transfer Medicaid to the states; severely cut spending on programs that help the poor; do away with subsidies to agriculture, education, transportation and scientific research; revise the tax code to benefit the rich; and abolish many other programs that make this country great, including earmarks he once used to great advantage to resurrect the economy around his  own hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.  Included in that government aid, which he seems to so despise, was a water treatment plant, funds for a technical college to retrain GM workers, improvements for a bus system, expansion of I-90 and creation of the Janesville Innovation Center to provide space from which entrepreneurs could launch their business innovations, facts well documented in an article by Ryan Lizza in the August 6th edition of The New Yorker magazine.  All of these government benefits illustrate precisely the point President Obama made on July 13th when he proclaimed in part that "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help" and that "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges".   What Mr. Ryan ultimately plans to do about Social Security is a little more murky, but he was the main architect of the privatization plan that George Bush abandoned in 2005, even though Mr. Ryan himself apparently survived on those benefits after the sudden death of his father (per article in the August 12th edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)So how disingenuous is it for someone to ridicule and want to dismantle the very government programs from which he so personally and politically benefited over the years?  In short, some of his ideas, which came from his ardent attachment to the writings of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, are so severe that even Newt Gingrich labeled them "right-wing social engineering" during the Republican primaries.  Read even more about Mr. Ryan's thinking from a New Republic article dated August 11, 2012 at  http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/106029/ryan-romney-vp-budget-cuts-medicare-medicaid-voucher-tax-cut

So, what exactly is the proper role of government?  Frankly, I think the answer to that question lies somewhere between the two extremes alluded to above, but government policies that further enrich the rich and only increase funding for the military but ignore the needs of the poor, elderly, infirm and disadvantaged are totally misguided, wrong-headed and bad for this country as a whole in my view.  Surely, we Americans deserve better than that.     


Friday, June 22, 2012

Emma Dilemma

She came into our lives 14 years ago this coming November as the result of a pledge I had made to my wife that she could get a dog if I got elected to the City Board.  I did, she did and our lives were never the same thereafter.  Even though we had experienced dog ownership before, none had ever come close to Emma in emotional attachment because we had never had a dog grow old on us.  Consequently, she became an integral and very important part of our family during her equivalent 98 years of human life.

To understand Emma you must first know that she was a Boston Terrier, an all-American breed we had owned before, but with her own unique independence, spirit and personality as captured perfectly in the occasional appearance of Cagney in John Deering and John Newcombe's comic strip Zack Hill published daily in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  From the moment she demonstrated those traits by negotiating the steps up our then outside deck as just a small little black and white ball of puppy fuzz, we knew there was something very special about this one.  Of course there was the chewing phase during which she had a great time with socks, toys and chair legs, but why she chose to attack a couple of treasured stereo speakers, which put her in the figurative dog house with me, I will never understand.  But as all dog owners know, such misbehavior is soon forgotten and quickly replaced when those warm eyes look up at you and say "please give me a pat on the head or rub on the tummy (or a treat in Emma's case)".   And it sure did not hurt that her appeal came from a cocked head with a distinctive diamond on top of that classic black and white tuxedo body.  See for yourself.

As the years passed by, and with a totally empty nest, Emma became our child which we closely nurtured through all known phases of her development and care.  Sure there were the regular trips to the vet for checkups, shots, shampoo and nail clipping.  But as luck would have it, Emma fell victim to several afflictions, many of which were unique to her breed, not the least of which was loud snoring while sleeping.  But she had hardly been in our home a month when she developed a hernia that we were told was qualification enough to return her to the breeder.  However, my wife declared "no way", as the family bonds were already beginning to be formed.  Fortunately, we were able to have the hernia fixed at the same time we had her spade.  This duel surgery was followed the next year by a diagnosis of luxating patellae (back knees) that eventually required not one but two surgeries to fix, which meant two separate operations with both legs being wrapped in hot pink casts for several weeks.  How she was able to get around during those many weeks of recuperation and also negotiate her crate which she loved to sleep in, is still a mystery, but no doubt it had to be part of that indomitable spirit built into her DNA first noticed upon her arrival as a young pup.  And, finally, there were the eye problems which were initially diagnosed as glaucoma, resulting in her being scheduled to have one of those big black eyes that had turned cloudy at this point, removed.  Literally on the day before that surgery we decided to get another opinion from an out of town canine ophthalmologist who immediately diagnosed her condition as Endothelial Cell Dystrophy, a condition again unique to Boston Terriers.  He performed corrective surgery on the spot on one of her eyes, even though he had given us the option to have them both fixed at the same time.  That recuperation involved antibiotic pills, eye drops several times a day and that dreaded dog collar to prevent further damage to her eye.  Again, she never skipped a beat.  Then several months later we repeated this same grueling process all over again on the second eye.  It was during this period in her life that one of our beloved vet staff gave her the tag "Emma Dilemma".    

While my wife and I accepted the fact that Emma was totally dependent upon us for every aspect of her life (i.e. love, affection, food, water, safe housing, recreation, etc.), I don't think either of us realized how much our attachment to her was slowly growing ever stronger day by day through those many years, even as she slowed down due to blindness, congestive heart failure and deafness in the last two years of her life, but through it all still showing that same spunk and spirit which had so endeared us to her from the beginning.  I know I didn't, as her deteriorating condition including frequent incontinence in the last few months actually became very stressful to me.  Like most pets, though, during that last month even she recognized her condition was worsening, as she began eating less and less until finally on Wednesday, June 13th, she quit eating anything, including her beloved treats.  However, none of those signs prepared us for the end which began around 7:00pm that night when her little heart began to fail and she started gasping for breath.  Both my wife and I had vowed we would never let her suffer, so thanks to a most compassionate and caring vet who had cared for Emma her entire life, she agreed to immediately meet us at her office and bring an end to Emma's life with grace and dignity, for which my wife and I shall always be grateful.  Although our now empty and silent house has become almost unbearable, we both agree that Emma will most likely be our last dog, as the pain of loss is simply too great to endure again at this late stage in our lives.  We'll just let our fond memories of her fill that void.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" - Sometimes

No doubt we are all familiar with Clare Boothe Luce's famous quote "No good deed goes unpunished" which is often used to describe good and noble acts or service which sometimes result in unintended negative consequences for the persons committing these acts or rendering those services.  When that happens, it makes one wonder why even try to do good, as it tends to suck all positive energy from one's soul.  But as I resume this blog after a three month hiatus, I am happy to report that good deeds do not always get punished.  Just on an institutional level there are numerous charitable organizations which constantly do wonderful things that make a huge and measurable impact on people's lives and well-being.  However, the one in which I have recently become involved and would like to promote is Habitat for Humanity, and more specifically Habitat for Humanity of Pulaski County.

For those who may not know, Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit with over 2,000 affiliates world wide which "seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action".  Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 150,000 houses in over 3,000 communities around the world, providing 750,000 people with "safe, decent and affordable shelter".  The cost of these dwellings range from a low of a few thousand dollars to an average of $53,309 in the United States which is achieved often times by donated material but always with volunteer, cost free labor.  However, these are not give away houses.  Each house is sold to qualified low income family with a non-interest bearing 30-year mortgage loan who is expected to contribute some of their own sweat equity into the project.

On a local basis, since 1987 Habitat for Humanity of Pulaski County has provided more than 100 families with affordable housing, and looks to expand that performance in the future by engaging other organizations (e.g. churches, businesses, civic groups and foundations) and individuals to partner with them by contributing either money or time through active volunteerism.  In addition we also have two area retail stores offering a wide selection of donated items at very reasonable prices, one at 2657 Pike Avenue in North Little Rock and a newer one at 6700 South University in Little Rock which will be celebrating a Grand Opening next Thursday, June 14th starting at 11:00am.  In fact one of the main purposes of this blog is to extend to you all the following cordial invitation to attend this Grand Opening:

And, finally, there is so much more you can learn about this wonderful organization that does many good deeds every day that go unpunished at http://www.habitatpulaski.org/ , so please go look and see for yourself.  I think you will be greatly rewarded by that experience.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A City Comes to Its Senses, For Now

Every now and then people in power whether at the federal, state or city level get reminded that one of their primary roles as elected "public servants" is to make life more reasonable and understandable for their constituents rather than difficult and complicated.  There are many ways in which they can accomplish this noble end, but none is more profound than city officials adopting suitable zoning ordinances to regulate the orderly growth and development of their municipalities.  Some cities take a more open and permissive view of how they want things to happen and, therefore, have fairly un-restrictive ordinances.  By contrast, other cities want to control everything from where buildings are built, how they are built and what they look like to what services can be performed in those buildings, what hours they can operate and who can be served.  Since people often times choose where they are going to invest capital, work and/or live based on what end of this spectrum they find most appealing, there is an expectation that the established rules of the game should be somewhat static and not be whimsically changed.

Just recently, however, the City of Little Rock, decided it would revise an ordinance dealing with uses normally permitted by right to require that a Conditional Use Permit be obtained at certain businesses throughout the city.  Ostensibly, the intent as reported by our local newspaper was to clean up some on-going nuisance problems with various commercial operations like "convenience stores, pawnshops, group homes and treatment centers".   However, this effort came to light almost on the very day the local Veterans Administration office announced that they had entered into a contract to purchase and renovate a property on Main Street where they could consolidate and improve many services now offered to homeless veterans in separate locations in the city.  Given the fact that Little Rock's past history in dealing with the homeless population is less than stellar, even being tagged the "meanest city in America" several years ago when they proposed to close down some homeless encampments, the timing of this initiative obviously became highly suspect.  But to be fair, the City recently did enter into a partnership with another homeless service provider to create a day resource center for the general homeless population, even though it is far removed from the downtown area where many other support services like public transportation and feeding centers exist.  For those unfamiliar with Little Rock, Main Street is a major commercial business thoroughfare in downtown along which there are many buildings and storefronts that have been vacant for years, so it is still unclear just how this proposed new VA center would adversely affect the area.  The City's contention is that the timing was just a coincidence, but the proposed ordinance had an emergency clause which would have made its mandate effective immediately upon being passed, so you be the judge.  

In any event thanks to some apparently very persuasive and cogent arguments made during a three hour Board of Directors meeting this past Tuesday night, the matter was thankfully tabled for further study and consideration.  Whether this is the end, who knows, as city governments always have the power to bring something they do not like to a screeching halt.   Regardless, when our public servants get to the point where they feel that enacting less than subtle, retro-active zoning changes is a good idea, then it's time to get some new faces on our governing board.  Some members are up for election this year, others are up in 2014.   

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Topical Tapas

With the smorgasbord of news items that have accumulated since the first of the year, what better way to nibble away at this cornucopia of juicy current events than to offer them up as tidbits for instant absorption, rather than feasting on an entree which would require greater mental digestion.  So, bon appetit!
1.  Mr. President, You Are Welcome Anytime - Contrary to recent comments by certain Republican operatives in Arkansas that President Obama has never come to our state because he would be snubbed by Democrats, I believe he would be welcomed with open arms.  After all, there is a strong history of presidents visiting our state going back to both Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, both Bushes, Nixon, Carter and others, so why would the first African American elected to that high office want to avoid the state which in 1957 was the face of strident racism, but has overcome that stigma and begun to move progressively forward?  Then, there is the obvious fact that fellow Democrat Bill Clinton, the only Arkansan ever elected president, has his Presidential Library and School of Public Service located right here in Little Rock, both wonderful venues, along with Little Rock Central High School, for public appearances.  Finally, we have one of only three elected Democrat governors among the thirteen "deep south" states, so come on down, Mr. President.   I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the hospitable and supportive reception you would receive here.     
2.  Welcome to Little Rock, Veterans -  Once again our city leaders have found it in their hearts to dissuade the establishment of a downtown facility for the homeless.  Only in this case it is one that would provide needed services to those who risked their lives in battle to ensure our freedoms.  Instead of accepting their congregating at the corner of Markham and Cross each day, as I again witnessed just last week, the Veterans Administration has opted to convert an old automotive dealership building on Main Street which has been vacant for years into a day resource center to minister to their needs.  And what was City Hall's response?  Of course, it was the same as several years ago when they stopped a homeless shelter from being established at 900 West Capitol.  When will they learn?
3.  Mitt Romney Meet Win Rockefeller - While Mitt Romney continues to plod away at seeking the Republican Party's nomination for president, he would be well advised to take a page from the history of one of our former governors of Arkansas, Winthrop Rockefeller, also a Republican, whose 100th birthday was posthumously celebrated this past Thursday evening at the Governor's Mansion here in Little Rock.   Unlike the stiff and reticent Mr. Romney, "Win" never shunned coming from a very wealthy family and wore that fact well, but he also knew how to connect with the common man and do many good deeds to their benefit in the process.  As highlighted in The Governor's Proclamation dated December 22, 2011, he created a viable two-party political system; made government more efficient; led the efforts to improve health care, education, race relations and cultural offerings; and set the example for Arkansans to look beyond themselves through philanthropy.  In short, he was the primary force in setting our state on course for the progressive prosperity we enjoy today.
4.  And the Killing Rolls Right Along - There have been five violent deaths in Little Rock in just the first three weeks of 2012, a year in which we could establish another record at this rate.  What more is there to say?
5.  The Other Side of General Lee - I was struck by the dedication of the entire Editorial Page of the January 19th edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to Gen. Robert E. Lee in recognition of his 206th birthday on January 19, 1807.  As President Lincoln's first choice to lead the Union Army, which he declined out of devotion to his beloved Virginia, he championed morality on the battlefields of that awful civil war which ripped our country apart for four long years.  Unlike his ruthless counterpart, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, whose famous march to the sea destroyed everything and everyone in his path, Gen. Lee fully recognized the difference between civilian and military targets and so commanded his troops to avoid "wanton destruction of private property", to "make war only upon armed men" and "not take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered".  Too bad he is more often cast as an icon of the more deplorable faction of southern sentiment at the time. 
6.  That Keystone XL Pipeline is Just That, Nothing More - While many supporters of this project are railing against President Obama for not approving the construction of this pipeline, as they feel it would create jobs and lessen our dependency on foreign oil, Cornell University issued an independent assessment of this project last fall which, basically, refutes those arguments.  First, that report concludes that it will create far fewer jobs in the U.S. than its proponents claim due to flawed data provided by the oil industry, and that, in fact, it may even "destroy more jobs than it creates".   And, more importantly, this pipeline is just a means to transport toxic tar sand oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada through the heartland of America to the ports of Houston and Port Arthur, Texas for refining.  From there most of it will then be exported to foreign countries, rather than being consumed domestically, so there is no real energy benefit to America.  Read it for yourself at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/01/20/the-truth-about-keystone-xl-few-jobs-no-energy-security-60041.     
7.  Gee Thanks, Boeing When the Boeing company sought help from the State of Kansas to secure a $3.5 billion government contract to build 18 tankers for the Air Force at their Wichita facility, of course the economic development machine in that state revved up to answer the call.  After all, they were promised that not only would the 2,100 jobs be preserved but an additional 7,500 jobs would be created.  Who could say no to that?  But a funny thing happened after Boeing was awarded that contract last February.  In November Boeing decided that production costs were too high there and that they would parcel out the work among their other plants in the U.S.   So, having enjoyed over $650 million in tax breaks from various government entities in Kansas over the past thirty years, they break their promise and say adios to Wichita.  There is a profound lesson to be learned here by other states, counties and cities all across this nation who go out of their way to give away millions of tax dollars in hopes of attracting jobs, but get short-changed in the process.  Be careful what you wish for!  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thumbs Up!

With the holidays firmly behind us, we can all focus on the new year with our respective obligatory resolutions to do a variety of things to improve our lives (e.g. eat right, drink water, exercise more, lose weight, help someone, attend church, etc.), most of which will be either discarded or forgotten by the end of this month, if not sooner.  But one endeavor we cannot escape will be the ever increasing drumbeat to promote a select group of movies that are up for an Oscar this year.  You know some of the contenders - The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Descendents, Hugo, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, Margin Call, Shame, Tree of Life, Bridesmaids, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse, just to name a few.  However, there is one movie that is strangely absent from any best movie list for reasons that totally escape me - Another Happy Day, which I would like to plug.  It certainly beats dwelling on the crazy scenes in Iowa and New Hampshire of the past few weeks.

To begin with, it has an outstanding cast which includes Ellen Barkin (one of its producers), Ellen Burstyn, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, Kate Bosworth, George Kennedy and Ezra Miller.  Yes, it centers around a totally dysfunctional family that makes one of my all-time favorite movies Parenthood, the prototype for the most popular series on TV by the same name, seem like Bambi, but it is beautifully written by Sam Levinson, as recognized by the Sundance Film Festival, and superbly acted.  In reality it could have been more accurately titled Another Unhappy Day, but that would probably have driven even more viewers away than have seen it to date.  In all honesty, my wife and I saw it only out of default because there was no other movie playing at the time which we were interested in seeing, and we were two of only three people in the theater at the time it showed.  

While some critics have tried to frame it as a failed comparison to Rachel Getting Married just because a family gathering for a wedding is the setting, I never even gave that link a thought while watching this movie.  From the opening scene to the final fade away, I was captivated by this family's history and dynamic.  It all begins with Lynn's (Barkin) road trip to her parents Joe (Kennedy) and Doris' (Burstyn) home with two of her sons, Elliott (Miller) and Ben (played by Daniel Yelsky) to attend the wedding of her oldest son, Dylan (played by Michael Nardelli).   Along the way young Ben can't help but record the event with a camcorder while his older brother Elliot, just out of drug rehab, continues to prod his mother with cutting and hurtful remarks.  As expected, that ribbing culminates in an emotional reaction that exposes the torment Lynn feels about her life which stays with her pretty much throughout the movie.  Naturally, her ex-husband Paul (Church) and his new wife Patty (Moore) will be there to add to her angst, but unknown is whether Lynn and Paul's daughter Alice (Bosworth) will even show up, as she has her own issues from the past with her abusive father.  Add to the mix Lynn's absent-minded and ailing father and a mother who has also reached her breaking point in dealing with all of this family trauma, and you know this is not going to be a Father Knows Best experience for her.  When Alice does finally appear, tension begins to rise, and you really begin to feel Lynn's pain.  It is an adult movie with raw, powerful and poignant emotion true to probably more real life situations than most of us care to admit, which alone sets it way above most of the movies coming out of Hollywood today.   For that reason, coupled with a wonderful screenplay, great cinematography and superb acting, it gets my nod for one of the best movies of 2011.  But for the lousy distribution, Another Happy Day would have been more widely available in mainstream theaters, thus allowing a greater audience the opportunity to see it, in which case this movie might have earned the higher degree of respect from the critics it deserves.   Thumbs way up for me!