Friday, July 10, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Get senators off the fence

When you take pains to define yourself as a middle-of-the-roader and a compromiser, as Arkansas’ two U. S. senators have done, there is bad that comes with the good. Hardly anyone despises you, and everyone cherishes a fond hope that you will finally land on his side on the burning issues. That is the nice part.

Like no other tandem in the Senate, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor now appreciate the distressing side of the carefully crafted “moderate” image. In an evenly divided Congress that is confronting issues of biblical consequence, most of the weight of the national striving lands squarely on you. The pressure groups from all sides focus their efforts on you and, even more perilously, your voters.

When the issue arose whether to re-balance the scales between management and unhappy employees to make it easier for workers to bargain with the company through a union, business and union groups waged big campaigns to persuade Arkansans that Pryor and Lincoln would either destroy or guarantee worker rights by their votes, both sides claiming the honorable side of protecting rights. Both senators switched to favor business and the union card-check legislation died, although management groups are still running anti-union ads in Arkansas to be sure that the labor bill stays buried.

Now, far more is at stake with health-care reform. Because she is a swing member of the Senate Finance Committee, one of five congressional committees working to carry out President Obama’s promise of universal health insurance, Lincoln is at the center of the national struggle. The insurance industry and medical-provider groups are keeping up a media blitz to pressure Lincoln and Pryor to oppose a public option to private health insurance plans. Though on a far smaller scale, the interests supporting a public, or government-sponsored, plan are trying to generate public pressure on the two senators.

So where will they come down? Their public comments have been generally unremarkable, leaving every side with some expectations of getting the senators’ support. We have found ourselves increasingly optimistic that Sen. Lincoln will support a package of reforms that will guarantee medical coverage for everyone in this health-poor state.

She said that was her expectation: that every Arkansan and every American will have access to affordable health insurance. Her biggest supporters, the Walmart company and family, came out recently for the president’s idea of mandatory employer participation, and she said that helped and that she would favor it, too.

An op-ed article signed by Lincoln that appeared in Arkansas newspapers last week said she favored having either a government plan alongside private insurance plans or else nonprofit cooperatives that would offer competing plans to the insurance industry’s. She had seemed earlier to lean toward the cooperatives, but last week she expressed no preference between the government and nonprofit option. That is at least hopeful.

If she is deliberate and objective, she will conclude that the two do not offer the same prospect of healthy competition. The idea of the government plan is that it would compete with the insurance oligopoly and drive down prices. That is why both the handful of insurers and some medical interests oppose it. They fear that the government health plans would maintain the low hospital and physician rates paid now by Medicare. If they were to compete for individual and group coverage with the low-cost government plan, the companies would have to lower reimbursement rates, trim their profits or find big administrative savings. The ballooning cost of health insurance would level off (the cost of insurance in Arkansas rose 66 percent between 2001 and 2007, more than five times the rate of income increase).

The question is, would an amalgam of cooperatives that could spring up around the country under the other scenario offer rates low enough that the low-to-middle-income insured in Arkansas could afford it? Without the bargaining power of a central public plan, could they force lower expenses? Could they compete at all?

History is not encouraging. The federal Farm Security Administration encouraged health cooperatives in the 1930s and 1940s but, small and under-capitalized, they fizzled. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, now one of the giants in the industry, began as community nonprofit plans. Now mutual companies, they are indistinguishable from the other commercial carriers. Some of the most profitable and high-cost companies in the country are former Blue plans.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D), the leading exponent of cooperatives, has suggested an alternative that might work, though not as well as a government plan. Instead of a hodgepodge of state and community coops, it would be a single national cooperative, independent of the government but chartered by Congress and operating under some congressional rules — something like the social-insurance funds in Germany and some other western European countries.

Conceivably, it might be little different from a government-sponsored plan modeled on Medicare, but it would give Lincoln and Pryor some ideological cover.

TOP STORY >> Children’s book celebrates C-130s

Since 1953, Lockheed Martin has cranked out 2,330 C-130 Hercules airplanes from its Marietta, Ga., plant. The cargo plane is the longest-running production military aircraft in aviation history and is beloved by aircraft enthusiasts — so much so that Beth Mahoney of Little Rock has written a self-published children’s book on the C-130 titled, “Meet Robby the C-130.” It focuses on explaining military deployment to children, especially those whose parents are in the military.

On Thursday morning, Mahoney and her family were given a special tour of Marietta’s Lockheed plant, where the C-130 goes through final assembly.

Beth Mahoney’s husband, Air Force Master Sgt. C.J. Mahoney, is a C-130 flight engineer stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base.

They have three children, Rachel, 6, Alex, 7, and the book’s namesake, Robby, 9.

The long partnership between Lockheed and the military inspired her to write the book, Beth Mahoney said.

“It was basically a comfort zone for kids whose parents were deployed,” she said of writing the book. “They’re very familiar with the C-130 in all branches of the service that have to deal with the C-130.”

The colorful book, with illustrations by Zachary Porter, tells the story of Robby, a C-130 airplane, who informs readers what he does during deployments.

He also tells of the importance of his work and explains the job of soldiers. The book is geared toward children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

The author, who runs her own nonprofit group for military children called Kids of America’s Heroes, said the C-130 is an icon for children whose parents work in the military and for Lockheed.

“All of them seem to have this love of the C-130,” she said. “It actually looks like a happy-go-lucky aircraft. For instance, the F-16 has this fear about it. (The C-130) doesn’t look too threatening.”

Lockheed spokesman Peter Simmons said the company has been pleased with the book.

“Lockheed Martin is delighted that Beth Mahoney took one of our company’s iconic programs, the C-130 Hercules, as the basis for her book,” Simmons said. “We wish Beth every success with this and any subsequent books.”

The Mahoneys’ son Robby is “infatuated” with aircrafts, which explains why the book was named after him.

“He gets a lot of recognition at school,” Beth Mahoney said.

The third-grader and his siblings were fascinated watching the large C-130s being assembled inside Lockheed’s massive 76-acre plant, where about 700 employees work on the cargo plane.

Lockheed plans to make 14 C-130s this year, said Greg Ulmer, deputy C-130 program manager. Each takes 10 months to assemble in their final stages in Marietta and a total of 36 months from start to finish.

“Day by day, there is a list of instructions that tell the mechanics what they have to do and the sequence they have to do them in,” Ulmer said to the kids.

Beth Mahoney said her husband and her father, a 22-year Air Force veteran, were her biggest help in researching the book.

She said she has traveled to schools and military bases promoting the book and said there are plans to create a series of such stories for kids.

“It actually went over so well with the children that we’re looking at making Robby a stuffed animal and a cartoon character,” she said.

Courtesy of Marcus E.

TOP STORY >> Deadly kidnapping, chase stun area

Leader staff writer

The search for a young woman kidnapped from Ward ended early Friday morning after a Garland County Sheriff’s Department sniper killed her abductor after he allegedly shot and killed her.

The 18-year-old Hot Springs woman was visiting Ward relatives when Todd Bostian, 32, her ex-boyfriend, abducted her Wednesday evening.

Sheriff’s deputy Judy Daniels said that although it is believed that Bostian, who was from the Hot Springs area, shot Kasey Meyers, as well as Ronda Keck, they can’t say for certain how Meyers died until ballistic tests are finished. Preliminary reports should be available in about a week, she said.

“We want to make sure that’s how it happened,” she said. “Let’s don’t say he did all this until we know for sure.”

Deputies exchanged fire with Bostian when he came out of the Keck home at Lake Hamilton, using the two women as shields.

He’d been hiding out with Meyers at the Kecks’ home.

Daniels said Bostian was in Lake Hamilton when he was shot. Divers recovered the bullet-proof vest he was wearing when he went into the water, she said.

Keck’s husband, Mike, reportedly met Bostian at the racetrack and was only a casual acquaintance. Neighbors alerted the sheriff’s department that Bostian was at the Keck home when they saw the stolen Ford Mustang he was reported to be driving.

Mrs. Keck was shot in the leg.

The deaths were the culmination of a two-day crime spree that began early Wednesday morning and included house break-ins and multiple car thefts.

Bostian was reportedly in Ward Wednesday evening when he pulled a gun on a man who lived near the mobile home where Myers was staying, after the man confronted him for being on his property. Bostian reportedly left after the man’s wife began to cry.

The intensive manhunt after Bostian kidnapped Meyers, who had reportedly known Bostian for only a short time and was five months pregnant with another man’s baby, involved several local law enforcement agencies, the state police, federal marshals and the FBI.

Chief Dean White of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department said several local agencies including Cabot, Beebe and the sheriff’s department helped search for Bostian Wednesday evening. Witnesses said he intended to take Myers to a motel, so police from Beebe and Cabot searched the motels there while the sheriff’s department searched in secluded rural areas where Bostian could have gone to be alone with Myers.

Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin said Myers had been at her aunt’s house on Emily Circle for two days when Bostian apparently forced her to leave. But reports on Thursday indicated that she did not attempt escape while Bostian bought a cell phone at Walmart with a credit card stolen from a North Little Rock woman during a home-intrusion robbery where he locked the elderly woman in a closet.

“He got into the truck on the passenger side,” Martin said.

The hunt for Bostian started Wednesday morning before daybreak when Sherwood police began pursuing three suspects who had broken into two homes in the Woodruff Creek subdivision.

For those crimes, Jimmy Sykes, 19, and Adam Whittaker, 25, were arrested in a Cadillac reportedly stolen in Little Rock.

Sherwood police recovered a stolen Honda Element and spotted Bostian at a restaurant around noon Wednesday.

Bostian reportedly fled in a stolen blue Dodge pickup and caused a minor wreck in the McCain Mall parking lot. He abandoned the pickup in the North Hills area, where he then stole a Buick from a resident, leaving her locked in the closet.

He was seen leaving Walmart as a passenger in a green Dodge pickup with a ball hitch on the back and trash in the bed.

SPORTS >> Bruins no-hit by Russellville hurler

Leader sports editor

It turns out those five errors that led to nine unearned runs were the least of Sylvan Hills’ problems on Thursday night.

The bigger problem was Russellville hurler Danny Parker, who tossed a six-inning no-hitter and limited the Bruins to two base runners in Sylvan Hills Optimist Club’s 11-0 loss at Kevin McReynolds Field in American Legion senior action.

Parker set down the final 11 Bruins and allowed only one base runner to reach second base, when Jake Dillon walked and moved over on a passed ball in the third. Korey Arnold was the only other Bruin to reach when he drew a walk in the first inning.

Offensively, Madison Beard and Mack Pickering did most of the damage for Russellville off Sylvan Hills starter Hunter Miller.

Pickering cracked a solo home run in the third and Beard delivered a three-run double in a nine-run sixth that put the game away.

Singles by Che McGee, Pickering and Erick Sanchez staked Russellville to a 1-0 lead after one. Miller was solid through the first five innings for Optimist Club, giving up only a first-inning run and Pickering’s home run in the third and pitching around errors in the fourth and fifth innings to keep the deficit at 2-0.

But the wheels came off in the sixth and, with a call Miller clearly felt he should have received, the score entering the bottom of the inning would have remained 2-0. After Derrick Pledger reached on an error to begin the inning, Miller set down the next two Russellville hitters. But Matt Jones walked and Zach Ward singled to load the bases.

A 1-2 pitch to Bobby Clark appeared to be right down Central, and had Miller halfway to the dugout before he realized it had been called a ball. Clark then reached safely on an error to make it 3-0 and McGee drew a walk to score another.

Even then, the 4-0 deficit seemed manageable, even with Parker dealing as he was. But Pickering was safe at first after striking out on a wild pitch as Ward came home and Beard delivered the big blow with a bases-clearing double into right center.

Singles by Pledger, Sanchez and Lucas Kemling produced three more runs as Russellville totaled nine – all unearned – in the inning after sending 13 batters to the plate.

Parker fanned two batters each in the first through fourth innings on his way to nine strikeouts. He got three harmless ground balls in the sixth to complete the no-hitter. The only Bruins to hit the ball hard were Austin Spears, who flied out to deep left-center in the fourth, and Geno Jameson, who hit a solid grounder to Clark at second in the fifth.

Russellville finished with 10 hits and was flawless in the field. Pickering, Beard and Sanchez had two hits apiece. Miller struck out eight for Sylvan Hills.

SPORTS >> Big fifth inning lifts Continental past Centennial

Leader sportswriter

The good news for Cabot Centennial Bank was that they held Little Rock Continental Express scoreless for six innings on Tuesday. The bad news was that in that one other inning, Team CEI put up a big number.

Little Rock took a 7-3 win in American Legion senior play at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Baseball Field. Team CEI scored all seven runs in the top of the fifth inning, breaking open what had been a pitcher’s duel up to that point.

Cabot starter Tyler Erickson gave up only one hit and fanned six through the first four frames until Little Rock got him for four hits in the top of the fifth. Erickson also gave up a walk that led to another score.

Continental Express starter Lance Black earned the win, allowing three hits and two earned runs and striking out five. Clint Green closed the final two innings for Little Rock, and gave up a single by Cabot catcher Ben Wainwright in the bottom of the sixth inning before striking out four of the final six batters he faced.

Chase Beasley took over for Erickson when things got sticky in the top of the fifth, and gave way to C.J. Jacoby in the seventh.

Beasley gave up a single in the top of the fifth and a double in the sixth before striking out two and picking off a runner at first to retire the side, while Jacoby gave up a double to the CEI cleanup man before retiring the final three.

But even with the solid defensive effort by Centennial Bank, their bats could not make up the difference.

Ty Steele set up the first Cabot score in the bottom of the fourth when he tripled to right field, and scored on Sam Bates’ line single to right. That put Centennial Bank up 1-0, but Little Rock’s next turn made that lead short-lived.

The top six of Continental Express’ order scored in the top of the fifth.
After its opening score, Little Rock loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a hit-batsman. Jim Manney’s triple to the fence in right scored all three to put Team CEI up 4-1.

Cabot added two more runs in the fifth. Wainwright and Chase Thompson were hit by a tiring Black to put runners at first and second. Leadoff batter Joe Bryant scored Wainwright with a fielder’s choice, and Thompson came in moments later on an error to set the final margin.

Drew Burks got the first hit for Cabot in the bottom of the second inning with one out, but a strikeout and a groundout left him stranded. Wainwright singled with two outs in the sixth but was also left standing on the path.

Continental Express finished with eight hits while Centennial Bank had four.

SPORTS >> Like them or not, Williams sisters are simply remarkable

Leader sports editor

There have been countless sets that came before them, from the DiMaggios to the Niekros to the Alous to the Mannings.

None of those sports siblings, however, have came close to achieving what Venus and Serena Williams have achieved — and that’s even taking into account Peyton and Eli Manning’s back-to-back Super Bowl rings.

The Williams sisters are in a class by themselves when it comes to brother or sister acts. The numbers say it all, but there is also the fact that they are racking up those numbers contemporaneously in an individual sport which one or the other has dominated for most of the past nine years, often earning their crowns at the other’s expense.

First the numbers: 18 Grand Slam singles titles (11 for Serena); nine Grand Slam doubles championships together, including four at Wimbledon; eight of the past 10 Wimbledon singles titles between them; Olympic gold for the sisters in doubles in 2008 and a gold medal in singles for Serena in 2000.

Last weekend in England, Venus and Serena delivered the total package, reaching the singles finals — Serena won — and capturing the doubles championship together. Really, what more could they have done?

And yet, given the remarkable story that is the Williams sisters, they seem not to receive the recognition and the accolades that that story and their remarkable accomplishments merit, either from the media or the fans.

Yes, it is perhaps understandable that what they did last week was eclipsed by Roger Federer’s record-setting 15th Grand Slam in a one-for-the-ages win over American Andy Roddick. But, really, should what the Williamses did be relegated to a Wimbledon afterthought?

I think there are several reasons that go beyond the race issue for the fans’ reluctance to fully embrace the sisters, though I am not discounting the idea that being supremely accomplished African-American athletes in a mostly Caucasian, if thoroughly international, sport engenders some resentment. And yet Tiger Woods seems to be beloved by a majority of golf fans who are overwhelmingly white.

No, I think the matter of the Williamses’ cool, if polite, reception from the sports world has more to do with their personalities, their style and the game of tennis itself.

From the outset, Serena and Venus adopted an us-against-the-world demeanor, which set the stage for icy relationships with fellow players, several of whom were openly critical of what they perceived as the sisters’ smugness. They were reported to be aloof and apparently didn’t feel the need to develop any camaraderie in the locker room.

With the media, both could seem petulant and neither was particularly gracious in suffering defeats early in their careers.

(Today, their offerings to the media seem rehearsed, strained and not genuine).

For that, they can blame their father, a man who also deserves enormous praise for guiding his young daughters through a mine-filled childhood in violent Compton, California. Richard Williams was undoubtedly instrumental in developing that us-against-the-world mentality in his daughters, but he is also responsible for that singleness of purpose that has served them so well.

From early on, he set their sights on the prizes they have gone on to accumulate at such a remarkable level.

But being home-schooled Jehova’s Witnesses certainly couldn’t have done the girls’ any favors in terms of socialization and must only have added to their sense of being unique and isolated.

They have also been criticized — I think, unfairly — by former greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, among others — for not dedicating themselves exclusively to the sport. Serena and Venus have both branched off into other pursuits, including modeling and clothing design.

The fact that they seem able to take time off, and then can so effortlessly return to dominate again, has to be a source of frustration and resentment for the other players on the tour. Those other pursuits surely add to the perception of aloofness, as well.

Yet, in some ways, it is admirable that they have other interests, that despite their father’s iron-fisted drive and single-mindedness, they have discovered a world beyond the rigors and grind of professional tennis.

Add to all of that the fact that the overpowering, somewhat graceless game of Serena’s is not exactly a crowd-pleaser. Venus has the more graceful game, but Serena is the more media-savvy these days.

Finally, the sport itself is in decline, thanks primarily to brackets filled with indistinguishable names that all seem to end in –ova. The sisters and the sport would benefit from either another American rival — though none seem to be on the horizon — or from the return to form of Maria Sharapova.

One gets the sense that the Williams sisters themselves aren’t particularly concerned with how they are received — a fact both admirable and at the same time reinforcing of their aloof reputations.

Whatever your feelings about Serena and Venus Williams, their presence is no less eclipsing than Tiger’s. We should probably all step back and relish the singularity of their accomplishments while they’re still playing the game.

SPORT S >> DU seeks support for wetlands improvement

Leader staff writer

Arkansas ducks may be getting a boost thanks to a new initiative of Ducks Unlimited and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Ducks Unlimited plans to raise $300,000, which will be matched by a $900,000 federal grant to improve three sites that are important winter habitats for a variety of waterfowl: Holland Bottoms Wildlife Management Area in Lonoke County, Dagmar WMA in Monroe County and Black Swamp WMA in Woodruff County.

“We are rehabilitating these areas to improve wetlands for waterfowl,” said Craig Hilburn, manager of conservation programs for Arkansas.

Holland Bottoms WMA is 6,190 acres between Hwy. 167 and Graham Road. Lake Pickthorn may be the area’s most notable attraction.

Under DU’s plan, AGFC will be better able to manage 80 acres of a duck rest area at Holland Bottoms with controlled flooding and by planting foods that will help ducks survive the winter.

“It’s important for hunters to have well-maintained rest areas. Having poorly managed rest areas is the same as not having ones at all,” Hilburn said.

The improved 80 acres, which will be off limits to hunters, will likely make ducks healthier. It will also mean duck hunting will be more productive in the surrounding acreage where hunting is permitted. Ducks and hunters will be pleased by the improvement plan.

“It’s a win, win for all. The quality of habitat on the wintering grounds has been shown to affect reproduction rates the following year,” Hilburn said.

But the new plan’s boldest component is to purchase 347 acres adjacent to Dagmar WMA, which is located on both sides of I-40 just east of Lonoke County.

Dagmar WMA, best known as the home of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, attracts many ducks during the winter. The acreage will be seasonally flooded by AGFC, which would benefit not only ducks that migrate there annually but numerous other animals.

“If we didn’t have these rest areas, we could drive the birds to extinction,” Hilburn said.

The plan for Lee LeBlanc Rest Area at Black Swamp WMA is to install a pump that will more efficiently flood the area every fall and winter.

But for these projects to be completed, DU needs donations from individuals and corporations that understand the importance of wetlands conservation.

“It is critical that we have support from corporate and private individuals. To get the grant, we need matched funding,” Hilburn said.

To make a donation that will go directly to improving local wetlands, send checks to Craig Hilburn at 1660 Amelia Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034, or call him at 501-837-1524. Please indicate on your checks that your donation is for Holland Bottoms, Dagmar and Black Swamp conservation.

Contact Matt Robinson, chairman of Ducks Unlimited’s local chapter, at 501-412-8055 for more information about these projects or to make a donation.

SPORTS >> Bruins advance to state

Leader sports editor

It may have been the 7th of July, but Cabot head coach Andy Runyan had a few fireworks left over on Tuesday night in the junior zone tournament at Burns Park.

Runyan, who may just have been letting loose his frustration at not being able to coach his team during the previous two weeks’ Arkansas Activities Association dead period, went out with a bang during Centennial Bank’s season-ending 12-1 loss to Sylvan Hills Optimist Club, getting tossed from the game after arguing that a Sylvan Hills double was actually a foul ball.

Runyan provided what drama there was in the contest, which along with North Little Rock’s win on Wednesday afternoon, qualified Optimist Club (20-6) for the junior state tournament at Sheridan. The Bruins opened with Sheridan last night in a game played after Leader deadlines.

Sylvan Hills was able to do all its damage on just five hits while taking advantage of six walks, a hit batter and four Cabot errors.

James McCraine, who was masterful in five innings of no-walk relief on Saturday, struggled to find the strike zone on Tuesday, walking three and hitting one in 1 2/3 innings. He pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, but the Bruins lined out twice and Austin Spears opened the second with a hard-hit grounder to short.

But with one out, Sylvan Hills went to work on its way to scoring seven runs on just two hits. After Blake Rasdon walked, Justin Cook reached on an infield hit. Michael Lock drew a walk and Brian Chastain was hit with a pitch to force in a run. With two outs, Cain Cormier’s single made it 2-0 and Trey Sims’ walk brought in another. Weston Conard came on in relief and Lance Hunter hit a long fly to center that Zach Uhiren reached. But the ball went off Uhiren’s glove as three more runs came in.

Hunter made it 7-0 after he scored on another Cabot error.

Centennial Bank (11-15-2) got its only run in the third on a walk to Bryson Morris and an error.

The Bruins put it away in the third, scoring five runs on two hits, three walks and two errors. Sims had an RBI single and Hunter delivered an RBI double.

Blake Hannon got the win for Sylvan Hills.

Earlier in the day, Optimist Club fell 17-7 to North Little Rock.


The season concluded in heartbreaking fashion for Gwatney’s junior team when Conway scored a run in the seventh inning.

Gwatney put two runners on in the bottom half but left them stranded.

After Conway took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Nick Rodriguez had an RBI double in the bottom half to cut the lead in half.

But Conway added a run in the second and Gwatney spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. In the fifth, Jacksonville got a run back on Zach Traylor’s double and Devon McClure’s single.

The Chevy Boys finally tied it in the sixth when Alex Tucker walked and Michael Lamb and Orlando Roberts singled to make it 3-3.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Base doctor will soar with Thunderbirds

19TH Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When the Thunderbirds, the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, announced officer selections for the 2010 demonstration season, a Little Rock Air Force Base captain was just what the doctor ordered … literally.

Capt. (Dr.) Thomas Bowden, 62nd Airlift Squadron flight surgeon, was picked to become the team’s new flight surgeon, or Thunderbird No. 9.

The doctor reports for training in early November and begins touring with the team in early 2010.

His new position will require him to travel with the “Ambassadors in Blue” for the next two years.

“As the team physician, my primary responsibility is providing medical care for the 130-member team with a priority placed on keeping the pilots in optimum health to fly their rigorous year-round flying schedule,” said Bowden. “I will also be providing pre-flight medical exams to the people selected for media and hometown hero flights.”

Bowden expressed how he felt when he found out he was selected for the position. “It was a mixture of pride, exhilaration and relief of anticipation after an application process that lasted about six months,” he said. “It’s an immense honor to be selected for this position, especially given my background in the Air Force.”

The doctor entered the Air Force as an Airman Basic in 1991, serving as a C-141B loadmaster at McChord Air Force Base prior to returning as a physician. Being a Thunderbird is a dream come true for him.

“I am looking forward to the challenge of keeping the team healthy and fit for duty to meet the demands of one of the busiest schedules in the Air Force. I am also looking forward to traveling and meeting new people. I love being a physician and I love interaction with people. This duty will provide the best of both worlds and I’m excited to begin,” said Bowden.

Selection for the air demonstration team is competitive and the officers selected will be representing the Air Force in its entirety. The team is truly the “Best of the Best.”

In an article published by the Air Demonstration Squadron, Lt. Col. Greg Thomas, commander and Thunderbird No. 1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., said, “All Thunderbirds are hand selected based on a proven record of service, capabilities in their field and a demonstrated commitment to excellence that matches the airmen we strive to represent daily.”

TOP STORY >> Relief planned for area farmers

Leader senior staff writer

About 75 Lonoke County farmers whose crops were damaged or destroyed by hail and high winds June 30 met with experts Monday to formulate strategies for their ravaged fields and to learn about efforts for a disaster declaration and low-cost loans.

The storm damaged about 26,000 acres in Lonoke County in a four-mile-wide swath stretching from near Furlow for 10.5 miles to Carlisle, according to Jeff Welch, county extension agent.

The mood among affected farmers in general has been pretty somber, Welch said, and subsequent inspections of fields have shown damage to be greater than originally thought.

Extension specialists in the fields of corn and feed grains, rice, soybeans and wheat met with farmers, representatives of Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor, and representatives of the Farm Service Agency in Scott at Mitchell’s farm shop on state Hwy. 31, the epicenter of the damage.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman told farmers that the county would ask the governor to declare it a disaster area through the office of Jimmy DePriest, who serves as Lonoke County Emergency Services director.

The Lonoke Farm Service Agency met Thursday and has since submitted its report to the state office, which will forward it to Gov. Mike Beebe and then on to Washington in hopes of getting a disaster declaration.

“We’re saying based on past experience, we’re assuming a disaster declaration,” said Mark Petty, FSA farm loan manager.

That designation is required if farmers are to qualify for low-interest USDA loans, which would be available after the end of the calendar year, Petty said.

“We discussed what we had seen in the fields and how they expect the crop to mature with the damage,” Welch said.

“We talked about replanting decisions on soybeans. It’s too late for rice,” he added.
Legally, damaged corn fields can’t be replanted in other crops because of a weed-control herbicide used in virtually all those fields, according to Welch.

Damaged rice or soybean fields can be turned under and replanted in soybeans, but farmers need to hurry, because for every day they are planted after July 1, the yield decreases 2 to 4 percent, he said.

That reality includes the fact that there is little tolerance for mistake or misjudgment at this point.

Welch suggested that to avoid problems farmers should “make sure the water is there on time, that plants are not drought-stressed, controlling the weeds on time, fertilizing on time to make sure that the stresses don’t mount up.

“We’ll make sure they have research-based information,” said Welch. “We’re in the fields. On corn, we’re researching the percent of defoliation and maturity. We’re sampling fields.

“The bottom line, you just have to face reality and go forward the best way you can,” Welch said.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

EDITORIAL >> GOP looks to a savior

If the progressive decapitation of the Republican Party that has marked this amazing summer continues along its course, Mike Huckabee, our former governor and presidential wannabe, will be tempted some day to say that it reflects God’s will that he be president. If Mike Huckabee is tempted to say it, he will say it, a careless tongue being one of his few frailties.

Within 10 days on either side of the solstice, three rising young stars in the Republican constellation have been sucked into a black hole. Each betrayed an all-too-human weakness, but in the end they were destroyed not by the weaknesses but by the hapless and undignified ways that they handled the public catharsis. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska will not be candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, not serious ones anyway. Thus does Mike Huckabee’s stock rise exponentially, owing not to his own deeds but to providence, perhaps divine.

As congressmen, Ensign and Sanford had posed as moral avengers in the Clinton sex and impeachment scandal — both said he should resign for having had a dalliance with a White House intern. They were forced by cuckolded men last month to admit that they had had extended extramarital affairs, Ensign with a woman who was a campaign staffer and the wife of his chief legislative aide and Sanford with an Argentine woman whom he had met at a dance and with whom he had been trysting in furtive visits to New York and Buenos Aires.

Voters have been forgiving politicians for such human flaws for two centuries, but Ensign and Sanford compounded them.

After the husband of his mistress confronted him about the affair in 2008, Sen. Ensign doubled the woman’s salary and went out of his way to land good jobs for the husband and a son. That kept the affair quiet until the husband demanded more than the senator thought he could deliver, and the man went to Fox News with his story.

Sanford, on his last tryst with his Argentine girlfriend, lied to his family and his staff about hiking on the Appalachian Trail and then humiliated his family and the state with a mawkish and endless account of the romance with his soul mate, vaguely described trysts with other women and his desire to try and see if he could muster some love for his wife again.

Both men had said Bill Clinton was morally obliged to quit public office for having engaged in oral sex in the White House with a woman not his wife, but neither was willing to do it himself.

Sarah Palin did, but for her we have some sympathy. Her incoherent and irrational explanation for resigning only a little more than two years in office dismayed even her ardent supporters, but we found some grudging admiration for the woman for the first time. She did not demonstrate the resilience and toughness that she had boasted about and that are the requisites for a president, but we found the humanity of her act understandable and touching.

She can’t take it anymore — the strife and pressures of political contention — and she wants it to stop, for herself as well as for her family. Only a little more than a year in the first major public office of her life, a few bloggers and pundits had elevated her as a national figure in a party that sorely needed a fresh personality, and Sen. John McCain, who knew almost nothing about her or her politics, picked her as his vice presidential candidate on the hastiest impulse of modern times. All her human foibles — petty greed, vanity, a propensity to shade the truth just a little for political aggrandizement and an overabundance of family scandals — were cast on a national stage.

So for a year since that fateful week when she and McCain met at his Arizona hideaway, she has had to deal with rumors, ethical charges and investigations. In her first year as governor, she charged taxpayers for 312 days of per-diem travel expenses because she lived nearly all the time at her home in Wasilla rather than in the governor’s mansion 600 miles away in frozen Juneau. She could govern from her home as easily as from the capital. She also collected $44,000 in travel for her family. And she used the State Police to settle some family grievances.

In the scheme of things, they were penny-ante violations of the public trust. Mike Huckabee did far worse as governor of Arkansas, though he had 10 years. But as a national figure, Palin invited greater scrutiny and criticism. Minor issues for the governor of a remote state with few people became heated controversies for a national figure. In the wake of the Ted Stevens investigation and conviction came questions from her critics about the financing of a big home that she and her husband built near a sports palace she engineered while she was mayor of the suburban village. There were strange coincidences.

Then came the endless sniping from the party, particularly from the campaign staff of Sen. McCain that tried to blame his defeat in the presidential election on her vanity, contrariness and lack of knowledge of national issues.

The ordinary wizened politician — Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, John Kerry, John McCain and, yes, Mike Huckabee — can handle those pressures and thrive on them. But not many of us, and not Sarah Palin. Her 18-minute farewell (though she may not have intended it to be) was not impressive, but it was human.

TOP STORY >> If you crush freedom, it will rise again

Leader editor

The fireworks ended before the storms moved in Saturday night as Arkansans, grateful for their freedoms even in these tough times, celebrated Independence Day. Many of them take their good fortune for granted.

If you’re lucky, you hardly have to think about being free — it’s like breathing. You don’t think about it much. You’re free because you live in America.

But you probably know someone who is in a war zone, sidestepping roadside bombs or dodging bullets so you can enjoy the fireworks and all the hot dogs you can eat.

In most places around the world, you don’t take freedom for granted. It doesn’t even exist. Ask the Iranians who were gunned down during their short uprising against the mullahs. Or look at the long life of Gen. Bela Kiraly, the Hungarian general who led the failed uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956. The Little Rock paper reported he died over the weekend at the age of 97.

The communists had imprisoned him after the Second World War, but he was freed during the revolution and led the uprising in Budapest, the capital.

The revolution was crushed within weeks because the Hungarians couldn’t defeat 100,000 Soviet soldiers and 4,500 Red Army tanks.

My mother reminded me after I told her about the general’s death that the Soviets marched into Hungary like an army that was fighting a world war.

Kiraly (which means king in Hungarian) said the shelling of Budapest was as relentless as it was a decade earlier when the Red Army pushed the Nazis out of Hungary.

Toward the end of the fighting, Kiraly had 400 men and eight tanks left. The general and many of his troops fled across the border into Austria, along with 250,000 other Hungarian refugees, including our family.

I was just a boy then, but I’ve often wondered: Were we cowards because we left?

Kiraly was a professional soldier, and he knew the answer: It would have been suicidal to fight the enemy to the end.

After he arrived in the U.S., Kiraly earned a doctorate in history from Columbia University and became a history professor.

But the revolution wasn’t crushed in 1956 after all: In 1989, communism was defeated in Hungary and a couple of years later in Russia and all over eastern Europe. Kiraly returned home at the age of 77 and became a member of parliament.

He told an interviewer that when he was a young officer in the Hungarian army during the Nazi occupation, he helped save the lives of many Jewish slave laborers.

For that act of heroism, he is listed among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

Kiraly proudly pointed to a wall in his den with the certificate from the museum.

As for the Hungarian revolution, Kiraly said, “It was the start of the series of events — the end of communism — for which we had to wait another 33 years.”

He knew the fight is not over, even when you’re outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered. Because freedom is more powerful than all the armies in the world.

TOP STORY >> Hospitals seek trauma centers

Leader senior staff writer

Three area hospitals are among several others in the state which have applied for funds from a tobacco tax that will pay for trauma care.

North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, St. Vincent–North in Sherwood and White County Medical Center in Searcy are among those seeking funds for their trauma centers.

Amy Arnone, a spokesperson for North Metro, said the hospital applied for Trauma Level III designation before the July 1 deadline.

“This is the level that we fit into with regards to the qualifications set out in the trauma application,” she explained.

“The funds available for Trauma Level III designation are $125,000,” Arnone said. The hospital is supposed to receive half of this money as a one-time, lump-sum payment and the rest to be determined after the hospital is inspected by the Trauma Council, which is being assembled at this time.”

“That’s huge to area residents,” said state Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, who voted for the tobacco tax that funds the new state trauma program.

“Any time you can provide that level of service, it only helps people in an emergency. As you go into Lonoke and White counties, there’s a gap in coverage.”

Jane English, R-North Little Rock, did not vote for the tax but says “the trauma centers are necessary.

“They will have a lot to do, but it’s important for people who live around the Jacksonville area to have somewhere to go,” English added.

“I think the trauma system will benefit the state as a whole,” said English’s predecessor in the House, Sandra Prater, a nurse who was a health-issue advocate during her terms.

She said the right level of funding would allow the hospitals to buy critical trauma equipment and perhaps fund some specialists.

State Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, said it would be a good addition for the Sherwood area to have a designated trauma facility within the community.

Sixty Arkansas hospitals have applied for the funds, which will come from the 56-cent per-pack tax increase enacted by the legislature earlier this year. The state’s cigarette tax is now $1.15 per pack.

The deadline to apply for the money recently passed. The tax is expected to gross about $20 million during the first year. The state Health Department hopes to have some of the money to hospitals by October.

Health Department spokesman Ed Barham says the funding will help medical authorities save lives and improve care for people who don’t die after being injured.

TOP STORY >> Relief planned for area farmers

Leader senior staff writer

About 75 Lonoke County farmers whose crops were damaged or destroyed by hail and high winds June 30 met with experts Monday to formulate strategies for their ravaged fields and to learn about efforts for a disaster declaration and low-cost loans.

The storm damaged about 26,000 acres in Lonoke County in a four-mile-wide swath stretching from near Furlow for 10.5 miles to Carlisle, according to Jeff Welch, county extension agent.

The mood among affected farmers in general has been pretty somber, Welch said, and subsequent inspections of fields have shown damage to be greater than originally thought.

Extension specialists in the fields of corn and feed grains, rice, soybeans and wheat met with farmers, representatives of Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor, and representatives of the Farm Service Agency in Scott at Mitchell’s farm shop on state Hwy. 31, the epicenter of the damage.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman told farmers that the county would ask the governor to declare it a disaster area through the office of Jimmy DePriest, who serves as Lonoke County Emergency Services director.

The Lonoke Farm Service Agency met Thursday and has since submitted its report to the state office, which will forward it to Gov. Mike Beebe and then on to Washington in hopes of getting a disaster declaration.

“We’re saying based on past experience, we’re assuming a disaster declaration,” said Mark Petty, FSA farm loan manager.

That designation is required if farmers are to qualify for low-interest USDA loans, which would be available after the end of the calendar year, Petty said.

“We discussed what we had seen in the fields and how they expect the crop to mature with the damage,” Welch said.

“We talked about replanting decisions on soybeans. It’s too late for rice,” he added.

Legally, damaged corn fields can’t be replanted in other crops because of a weed-control herbicide used in virtually all those fields, according to Welch.

Damaged rice or soybean fields can be turned under and replanted in soybeans, but farmers need to hurry, because for every day they are planted after July 1, the yield decreases 2 to 4 percent, he said.

That reality includes the fact that there is little tolerance for mistake or misjudgment at this point.

Welch suggested that to avoid problems farmers should “make sure the water is there on time, that plants are not drought-stressed, controlling the weeds on time, fertilizing on time to make sure that the stresses don’t mount up.

“We’ll make sure they have research-based information,” said Welch. “We’re in the fields. On corn, we’re researching the percent of defoliation and maturity. We’re sampling fields.

“The bottom line, you just have to face reality and go forward the best way you can,” Welch said.

TOP STORY >> Authority to borrow funds for water line

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke-White Public Water Authority board voted Tuesday to borrow $721,000 from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to begin the project to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake.

The board did so after hearing reports that indicated the project can be built even if Cabot does not participate.

Current members of Lonoke-White Public Water Authority include Grand Prairie, Jacksonville, North Pulaski Water Association, Vilonia, Cabot, Ward, Austin, Lonoke, Furlow, Beebe and McRae.

The borrowed money will be the authority’s match for a federal grant of about $800,000. The combined funds of more than $1.5 million will allow the board to hire a project manager, and other professionals needed to continue the project that has now been in the planning stages for about 15 years.

It will also pay Jacksonville engineer Tommy Bond who has worked on the project for several years without pay.

“You owe me about $150,000 right now and you don’t have any way to pay it unless you close on this loan,” Bond told the board.

Bond came to the Tuesday meeting with new cost estimates for the project that could allow the project to move ahead without Cabot, which is not willing to participate at a level that would require raising its customers’ rates.

Instead of $65 million, Bond said the project could be completed for $45 million if a traditional sand filter treatment plant was built instead of one using membrane technology.

ANRC had agreed to provide a $15 million grant and a $50 million loan.

He said during the meeting that if his calculations were correct, and if ANRC will give a $15 million grant and a $30 million loan, repayment of the debt would require collecting $5 a month from 34,000 customers instead of 46,000 customers, a difference of 12,000.

Afterward, he confirmed that the new calculations were to eliminate the need for Cabot’s participation.

Earlier, Terry House, manager of the combined Grand Prairie and Bayou Two water associations, said the project could move forward even without Cabot’s 1.2 million gallons a day water allocation in Greers Ferry Lake.

The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission has said publicly that it will not give up the allocation. But House said the allocations belonging to Ward, Grand Prairie, Lonoke and North Pulaski Water Association are sufficient.

Vilonia, which is a member of the LWPWA but does not have a water allocation from Greers Ferry Lake, can use its allocation from a project that was completed several years ago, House said.

Cabot doesn’t need water from Greers Ferry Lake except possibly as an emergency backup source. The city-owned wells and a contract for surface water with Central Arkansas Water should supply Cabot until 2070.

For future water, the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission voted last month to try to get the last 7 million gallons a day allocation available from Lake DeGray and use CAW’s infrastructure to get the water to Cabot.

Bond told LWPWA board members that although many don’t need the water now, their situations could change with little notice. Wells dry up, he said.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke told the members that before they could do anything else, they had to decide about the $721,000 loan.

“If we don’t get past this issue, we’re back to square one,” he said.

Woody Bryant with Grand Prairie/Bayou Two added that if the board didn’t move forward it would lose the $15 million grant for the project.

The yes votes to proceed included Cabot’s vote. At stake, if the project isn’t built, is the 110 acres at Cove Creek where the intake and treatment plant will be built.

ANRC will hold the mortgage on the property.

But bond attorney David Menz pointed out that with the way the area is growing, if the LWPWA doesn’t build the project, someone will. So selling the land to pay the debt should not be a problem.

Howard Williams, of the ANRC, the last person on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting, reminded members that ANRC needs signed commitments from project participants by Sept. 1, so contracts can be let by February 2010.

TOP STORY >> Senators see a major shift in reforming health care

Leader senior staff writer

With about 500,000 Arkansans uninsured, Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both Democrats, say the time has come for health-care reform to ensure meaningful, efficient and affordable care for all Arkansans and Americans.

President Barack Obama has made health care reform the centerpiece of his ambitious agenda and 10-year costs have been estimated at $1.3 trillion, maybe more.

Obama said it could be paid for from savings created by implementing the more efficient system.

Lincoln said the most important considerations would be paying for the reform, making sure everyone is covered and that it is effective and efficient.

Lincoln said people happy with their health plans and their doctors would not have to change.

She said she hoped a bipartisan bill can be passed by late fall.

“We’re shifting from a whole different culture in health care,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “For 50 years we’ve been waiting until we are the sickest to (treat and) reimburse care.”

Lincoln said the new model should reimburse wellness and efficient disease management.

“People need to take care of themselves before the most costly treatment,” she said. “Health care reform should stress quality, affordability and sustainability,” including a government-run option, Lincoln said.

“We have to create stable health insurance coverage for everyone. We don’t want them to be ignored or denied (coverage) for pre-existing conditions.”

“It is very clear to me that the status quo is not working,” said Pryor. “I have heard too many horror stories from Arkansans with and without health insurance.

“The Senate continues to piece together a healthcare reform bill, and I am withholding judgment until the committee process is complete,” he said.

Pryor said the essential elements of health care reform are that it should reduce costs for families, businesses and government. It should protect an individual’s choice of doctors and insurance plans; and it should assure affordable, quality healthcare for every Arkansan.

Lincoln said that while the problem may be too big to address all at once, it is nonetheless important to provide a bill that is very comprehensive.

Lincoln serves on the Senate Finance Committee, one of two committees trying to formulate a healthcare bill. The other is the Senate Health Committee.

“We want to make sure that all have coverage that’s meaningful and the right price,” Lincoln said.

She said insurance must be not only available to all, but it must be portable, so a policyholder can take it from job to job. The risk needs to be weighted not against individuals, particularly with preexisting conditions, but against larger pools.

She says a government-option insurer would help ensure that no one is left behind.

Lincoln said there is a place in the plans for nonprofit cooperatives or groups, maybe backed by the government.

She said the government-option plans would charge premiums to sustain themselves and could be orchestrated and run by the government, much as the Postal Service does.

“I think that doing nothing is not an option. The economy is in the ditch,” Lincoln said. “Nearly one-fifth of the economy is being spent on health care. We’re only 19th in the world on efficiencies and outcome. The path we are on is unsustainable.”

“Every Arkansan should have access to quality health care, no matter where he or she lives,” Pryor said, “but without immediate relief, many small hospitals in the nation are at serious risk of closure, job loss or reductions in patient services, with rural families suffering the consequences.”

Pryor said that’s why solutions to preserve health-care facilities that serve rural communities should be part of the broader effort to improve the quality and access of health care for all Americans.

“As a first step, I have introduced legislation that helps Arkansas’ rural health care providers and the families who use them.

The Critical Access Flexibility Act of 2009 will give states the flexibility needed to protect local hospitals that serve rural communities. My bill will help more hospitals in Arkansas become designated as Critical Access Hospitals (CAH), which are hospitals certified to receive a higher reimbursement rate from Medicare. These funds are intended to improve financial performance and thereby retain vital services and jobs and attract economic development.

“Across Arkansas, rural health care providers are struggling to make ends meet in these challenging economic times.

Reducing the financial strain they are experiencing will help keep emergency room doors open, and that is an essential ingredient for a healthier state and nation,” Pryor said.

Pryor says he supports tax credits to help employers obtain health insurance for their employees and tax credits for individuals who purchase coverage on their own.

“I also believe that Congress needs to make health care more accessible to rural families and help rural health care providers cope with rising costs and the difficulties of providing services in sparsely populated areas,” he said.

“Americans will continue to pay more for their drugs than any other people in the entire world unless Congress and the administration allow the safe importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries,” Pryor said.

“Arkansans pay 33-88 percent more for their drugs than our neighbors in Canada.”

“The Medicare trust fund is about to dry up,” Lincoln said. “We must do the best job to get everyone covered.”

Lincoln said she thinks at least a few Republicans will vote for the final bill when it comes to the floor.

“Businesses know they are spending too much, American families know they are spending too much. This is a good opportunity to do it right now. I hope it’s bipartisan and I hope to have something done by late fall.”

SPORTS >> Area athletes shine at Joplin, reach nationals

Leader sportswriter

A number of area youth athletes qualified for next month’s AAU National Junior Olympic championships on Aug. 2-8 in Des Moines, Iowa, at the Area 11 national qualifier meet in Joplin, Mo., over the weekend.

Kiara Vaughn won the finals of girls bantam 100-meter dash with a time of 14.47, and also qualified for the bantam 200 meters by finishing second with a time of 30.18. Nikia Williams grabbed the final national qualifying spot in the girls sub-midget 100-meter dash, finishing fourth with a time of 14.22

Searcy’s Khaila Jones won the sub-youth triple jump with a measurement of 33 feet, three inches, and took second place in the girls sub-youth 100-meter dash with a time of 13.25 to qualify for nationals. Jones also finished second in the sub-youth long jump with a measurement of 4.98 meters.

Jones, sister of former Searcy track star and current Arkansas Razorback Whitney Jones, won the national triple jump last year in the midget division.

Daijah Harris of Jacksonville won the girls sub-bantam 200-meter dash with a time of 32.05 and also finished third in the girls sub-bantam long jump, leaping 11 feet, one inch to earn a trip to Des Moines next month.

Deja Hale took the fourth and final qualifying spot for nationals in the sub-youth 200-meter dash with a time of 27.76. Taylor Person won the midget race-walk with a time of 10:48.11, and also qualified for the shot put with a second-place finish.

Nikeya Mosby finished second in the midget race-walk with a time of 11:11.03 Ebony Cox, Kiarra Harris and Amber Lockhart were also among Jacksonville athletes who qualified in the relays.

On the boys side, Antrell Terry finished second in the young 400-meter dash with a time of 49.43, and also qualified for relay events. Deonte Watson qualified for the national intermediate 800-meter run with a third-place finish in the Joplin qualifier with a time of 2:13.40, as well as two relay events.

Sherwood’s Nathenial Clark qualified for the young long jump. Clark finished third in the event with a mark of 21-08.75.

SPORTS >> Cook picks up flag-to-flag win

Leader sportswriter

Curtis Cook may not be old enough to be considered a master of restarts, but Friday’s Scrapp Fox Memorial race gave him plenty of practice at working toward that honor.

The 24-year-old Vilonia pilot known as “Hollywood” held off hard-charging shoes Dale Proctor and Jack “The Man” Sullivan on eight different restarts during the 30-lap, $2,000-to-win crown-jewel modified event at Beebe Speedway to give him a flag-to-flag win in dominating fashion.

Cook, who started on the outside pole, out-ran Proctor, the fast qualifier from Hector, into turn one at the drop of the green and never looked back in collecting his fourth win at Beebe in his last six starts. It was also his fifth consecutive open-wheel modified win overall.

“If I couldn’t have started on the front row, I don’t think it would have happened,” said Cook. “Having good runs in the heat races to get a good starting position is everything. Nowadays, with the class of field that we’re racing with, you can’t start from the back and win. It’s almost too tough. I mean, it happens from time to time, but 90 percent of the time, it’s somebody from the first two rows who wins the race.”

The only thing close to a tense moment for Cook was the seventh restart on lap 24, when Greenbrier’s Sullivan briefly got to his outside for one circuit until the driver of the black and green 601 machine got his ride hooked back up on the inside and set sail once again.

“Right there with a couple of restarts to go, I don’t know who it was, but someone was bobbing to the outside as soon as we came out of two,” Cook said. “I felt like I was getting a good run. I never heard them after that.

“So I wanted to maintain a good rhythm and gain momentum right around the bottom, just to try and protect (the lead). It might not have been the fastest line, but I was wanting to run somewhat protective.”

The frequent re-starts also gave longtime standout Sullivan many chances to try and intimidate Cook.

“Old Jack Sullivan, he was over there under cautions bumping me in the back end, I guess trying to rattle me a little bit,” Cook said. “He’d goose it and come up beside me, but I just sat there and tried to focus and maintain a cool head and be consistent, be smooth.”

While Cook went virtually uncontested at the front, bedlam ensued behind him as, on eight different occasions, the caution flags came out.

From the first two yellows for spins by North Little Rock veteran Mike Bowers to the scariest moment of the night, when Little Rock driver Patrick Lynn smashed into the turn one wall after his throttle hung open on lap 23, pacing under caution became a common occurrence.

It was a tough night as well for local drivers. Jacksonville’s Cory Dumas and Searcy driver Robert Davis each struggled, but still managed to pick up the final two qualifying spots in the heats.

Hometown favorite Todd Greer of Beebe and Searcy’s Tyler “Rocketman’” Stevens proved competitive in their heats, but bad luck in the form of a flat tire sent Greer off the track under caution on lap 23, and Stevens pulled off the track while pacing in the ninth spot under caution on lap 13, never to return.

Dumas’ night went from bad to worse on lap 19 when he spun to bring out the fifth caution and retired in the 18th spot, while Davis spun on lap 13 and finished with a DNF in 19th. Stevens ended up scored as last place in 20th.

Greer recovered from his flat to claim a respectable ninth-place finish after starting seventh, while Cabot’s Jason Flory battled to an 11th-place finish. Flory was strong in his opening heat until contact with the 52 car of Oklahoma driver Hank Long sent the back end of his car up in the air, and his F3 machine was never the same for the rest of the night.

The battle for second between Proctor and Sullivan proved dicey at times, as Sullivan held the spot for the majority of the race until Proctor finally out-dueled him on the final restart at lap 26 to take the $1,000 runner-up check, forcing Sullivan to settle for third.

Defending champion Randy Weaver stayed out of the trouble that broke out in front of, beside and behind him, but could never find his way up to challenge the top three. He spent most of the race battling various drivers for the fourth spot until a resurging Bowers snuck past him on the final lap to claim it.

Weaver held on to round out the top five, with Jeff Davis, Casey Findley, Lynnsee Provence, Greer and Mabelvale’s Travis Broach completing the top ten. Jonesboro driver Davis’ sixth-place run made him hard charger for the race after starting 17th, while Findley also had to make his way back toward the front after he cut a right front tire down heading into turn four on lap 26 to bring out the final yellow flag.

After some tough weekends during the final months of the ’08 season, Cook said it was a late-night pow-wow with his crew earlier this spring that got the Lawson Farms-sponsored team back on track.

“We struggled there at the end of last year,” said Cook. “We came off a pretty good win streak about a year ago, but everybody else got faster, and we just went to struggling. It seemed like we went from racing for the lead to just trying to stay in the top ten, but me and my cousin — my crew chief — we sat down in the shop one night about 12 o’clock.

“We got the notebook out and started throwing ideas around, talking about the car and what we wanted it to do. We made a to-try list. We sat out there until three or four in the morning just throwing stuff at the car, and we rolled out the next weekend and won. The car’s been great ever since.”

SPORTS >> Optimist Club remains in winner’s bracket

Leader sports editor

Justin Cook provided the arm and Lance Hunter the bat as Sylvan Hills Optimist Club advanced in the winner’s bracket at the junior zone tournament on Monday with a 11-1 cruise past Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet.

Cook allowed four hits and struck out eight over five innings and Hunter drove in three runs and accounted for three of Optimist Club’s six hits.

Sylvan Hills took on North Little in a winner’s bracket game yesterday afternoon while Gwatney took on Conway NBMC in an elimination game.

Gwatney took the early lead in the second without benefit of a hit. Chris McClendon was hit with a pitch and hustled to third on Zach Traylor’s ground out. He scored on a balk. But that was the last dent Gwatney would inflict on Cook’s line, though the
Chevy Boys did place two on in the third and let a great opportunity fizzle in the fourth.

Sylvan Hills broke through against Traylor, the Chevy Boy starter, with a seven-run third, which was helped along by four walks and an error. Will Carter reached on an error to open the inning and walks to Cain Cormier and Trey Sims loaded the bases.

Hunter lined a single to center to put Optimist Club up 2-1 and, after Austin Spears was plunked with a pitch, Blake Rasdon singled in two more runs. Traylor left for reliever Chris McClendon. Two walks forced in another run and a wild pitch made it 6-1. Carter’s sacrifice fly finished the Sylvan Hills scoring as the Bruins took a 7-1 lead.

Gwatney got something promising going in the fourth when it placed its firs three batters on. Traylor walked, Alex Tucker singled and Orlando Roberts was safe on a bunt single. But Brandon Russell hit a bouncer back to the mound and Cook turned it into a home-to-first double play.

Jacob Abrahamson walked to reload the bases, but Hunter picked off Roberts at second base.

The Bruins put the game away on a run rule when they scored four in the fifth. Brain Chastain struck out but was safe at first when Russell dropped catcher Nick Rodriguez’ throw after the ball bounced in the dirt. James Pepin was hit with a pitch and Carter singled to load the bases. Walks to Cormier and Trey Sims made it 9-1. Cormier scored on a wild pitch and the game ended with Hunter’s RBI single.


Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet made easy work of it against Morrilton in the opening round of the zone tournament on a sultry Saturday morning at Burns Park.

Gwatney got three hits each from Alex Tucker and Michael Lamb. Lamb not only drove in four runs, but tossed a five-hitter in going the distance in the run-ruled, six-inning affair.

Lamb pitched out of two-on, no-out jams in both the second and third innings and lost his shutout in the sixth on a double, a ground out and a fielder’s choice error.

But Gwatney mercifully ended the game early when it scored four runs in the top of the sixth to take a 12-0 lead.

Morrilton pitching issued 11 walks in the game, the final eight of which came home to score. Walks to Jacob Abrahamson and Nick Rodriguez in the first inning came up empty, but Gwatney broke through with a pair of runs in the second. After Zach Traylor reached on an error, Tucker lined a single to left and Lamb followed with a two-run double to left-center.

Lamb pitched around a walk and a single to start the second, and a single and double to start the third.

Gwatney broke the game open with four in the fourth, an inning that began with Chris McClendon’s hustling triple to right-center. He scored on a wild pitch, and Traylor and Brandon Russell walked while Tucker was hit with a pitch.

Abrahamson drew a walk to force in Traylor, who scored four times in four plate appearances. Kenny Cummings walked to force in Tucker, and Russell scored when Devon McClure reached on a fielder’s choice.

More wildness got Gwatney two more in the fifth. Walks to McClendon and Traylor, followed by a single by Tucker made it 7-0. Lamb’s bad-hop single past the second baseman scored Traylor.

In the sixth, Cummings was hit with a pitch and McClure, McClendon and Traylor walked. A wild pitch scored Cummings and an error on the play also brought home McClure. McClendon scored on the front end of a double steal, while Traylor came in on Lamb’s single.

Gwatney needed only seven hits to produce its run total. Lamb fanned four and walked one.

SPORTS >> Cabot juniors rally to stay alive

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Centennial Bank junior team has lived to see another day, thanks to its second dramatic comeback in three days.

Down to its last out and facing a season-ending loss in the junior zone tournament at Burns Park on Monday night, Cabot scored four runs with two outs to beat Maumelle 6-5 and stay alive for a state tournament berth.

Cabot (11-14-2) played the loser of the North Little Rock-Sylvan Hills Optimist Club game late last night in another elimination game.

On Saturday, Cabot’s offense overcame 12 strikeouts through the first 4 1/3 innings to rally for an extra-innings win over Conway NBMC.

But Cabot was flat as could be in an 8-1 loss to North Little Rock earlier in the day on Monday, sending them to the elimination game with Maumelle.

Trailing 5-2 heading into its final at bat, Centennial Bank once again found a way. Josh Graham walked leading off the inning and, one out later, Bryson Morris reached on an error. Both runners advanced on Justin Goff’s ground out, but Cabot was down to its final out.

T.C. Carter kept Cabot’s hopes alive with a single to make it 5-3 and Tyler Cole tied the game when he ripped a 3-1 pitch into the gap in right for a triple. He came across with the game-winner on a wild pitch.

Jeff Brown got the win in relief, allowing just one earned run over three innings.

Earlier on Monday, Cabot wasted some early opportunities before falling in a 7-0 hole on its way to an 8-1 loss to North Little Rock. Centennial Bank got a leadoff single by Zach Uhiren, but he was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double.

Goff also got a base hit in the inning but was stranded.

Cabot starter Chad Wisely, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the first, gave up a walk and two singles to start the second and the Colts eventually parlayed that into a 3-0 lead. The Colts sent 10 to the plate in the third and scored four more times.

Cabot got its lone run in the sixth on Bryson Morris’ single and Carter’s run-scoring double. Carter had two of Cabot’s seven hits — both doubles.


Before Cabot could think about winning the game it had to figure out how to score a run and before it could think about that, it had to find a way just to put a bat on the ball.

Cabot, whose first 13 batters on Saturday struck out 12 times, somehow managed to do all those things in the first round of the junior American Legion zone tournament at Burns Park, storming back for a dramatic extra-innings victory over tourney two-seed Conway NBMC. The big blow was Jacob Luckett’s three-run blast in the seventh inning that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

It still took Cabot extra innings to finally secure the win after Conway rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie it. Centennial Bank won it when Luckett drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the eighth to force in Justin Goff.

But a game which featured almost no drama through the first six innings had nothing but in the final two, and Conway put the tying run on when the leadoff man reached on an error in the eighth.

The next batter, attempting to bunt the runner over, stepped on the plate and was called out and Tyler Cole hauled in a soft liner at second to record the second out and bring Cabot within an out of the win.

It took Zach Uhiren retreating deep into center field to haul in a long liner before Cabot could celebrate its opening-round win. Relief pitcher James McCraine gave Centennial Bank a chance when he entered with a 2-0 deficit in the fourth inning. He allowed only four hits and one earned run, while striking out six and walking none over the final five innings to collect the victory.

Starter Bryson Morris was no slouch on Saturday, allowing only two hits and one earned run over three innings. But he walked four, which directly led to both early Conway runs.

Meanwhile, Conway hurler Wade Beck was almost literally unhittable. It would have been literally true except for Daniel Fox’s weak grounder back to the mound in the second. That was the only ball Cabot put in play over the first 4 1/3 innings. Beck set down the first 13 Cabot batters, striking out 12 of them.

T.C. Carter finally broke through, ripping a 2-2 pitch into the left field gap for a one-out double in the fifth. A wild pitch and a throwing error got Carter home to make it 2-1.

Though Beck retired the next two batters on pop ups, he was no longer dominant after that. Cabot put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position on a hit batter, Uhiren’s infield single and a wild pitch. But they left them stranded and entered the seventh inning still down 2-1.

Beck hit Nathan Cash to start things off. One out later, Fox lined a single to center before Luckett rocketed a 2-1 pitch over the fence in left for a three-run homer and a 4-2 Centennial Bank lead.

McCraine had given up just one hit through three innings, but Conway got to him for a pair of singles to start the seventh. With one out, Beck sent a potential game-ending double-play grounder to short but the ball got through for Cabot’s fourth error of the game — it committed five overall — and one run came in to make it 4-3. Tyler Spangler’s single tied it, but Uhiren threw out Beck trying to get to third on the play and McCraine got a pop out to send the game into extra innings.

Cole singled to open the eighth, Goff walked and Cash was hit in the head with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. But a strikeout and a force at the plate left the bases loaded, now with two outs. Luckett, though, battled for a walk to force in what proved the winning run.

Conway out-hit Cabot 6-5. Beck finished with 14 strikeouts before being relieved to start the eighth inning.

Monday, July 06, 2009

TOP STORY >> Hemingway wrote ‘Farewell to Arms’ in Piggott

Associated Press writer

PIGGOTT — The quail rose out of the cornfields and briers of northeast Arkansas, giving the young writer just enough time to swing his shotgun up like a pitchfork toward their flight.

As he picked off the birds along Sugar Creek in Piggott, Ernest Hemingway still remained years away from depression and turning another shotgun on himself.

The man collecting his kills had won the attention of the literary world with “The Sun Also Rises,” but remained reliant on the handouts of friends, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.

In Piggott, the family of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, gave generously to the writer as the Great Depression took hold of the country. He wrote about 100 pages of “A Farewell to Arms” from a converted studio over an old barn near their home before the heat of an Arkansas summer — and his own restlessness — drove him away.

Now, 80 years after the publication of the tale of love and loss, the Arkansas home where Hemingway stayed has seen an increase in the number of visitors coming to the out-of-the-way museum. That likely would come as a shock to Hemingway, who dismissed the town as the unbearably hot “disease cultural center of America.”

“He was not social with Piggott. He came here because he could get away from everybody and he could write,” said Deanna Dismukes, an education coordinator at the museum. He thought that “nobody’s going to bug him, because there aren’t any important people like (James) Joyce.”

You have to want to go to Piggott to get there, even today. It’s a three-hour car trip from Little Rock or St. Louis to the town, about 10 miles from the Missouri border in the upper reaches of northeast Arkansas. The drained swamp land surrounding the city of 3,500 holds rice fields and an occasional corn crop.

Paul Pfeiffer saw a new life for himself in the lands surrounding Piggott. Pfeiffer, who established a successful chemicals company with his brothers, purchased 63,000 acres around the city and moved his family there from St. Louis in 1913.

His daughter Pauline would later graduate from journalism school in Missouri and take on several reporting jobs before landing in Paris to work for Vogue.

There, among the Lost Generation writers of the Left Bank, Pauline Pfeiffer met Hemingway and his then-wife at a party. Soon, the sharp-dressed and sharp-minded reporter won over Hemingway, who divorced in 1927 and married Pfeiffer a month later.

Their marriage, though likely based on lust and mutual respect for their writing styles, also included a financial incentive as well, said Ruth Hawkins, who heads the Arkansas State University program that manages the Piggott museum. The trust fund of Hemingway’s first wife had dwindled to “almost nothing” by the end of their marriage, she said.

“I think he found she was a good editor and came from a family with money. Those were important to Ernest,” Hawkins said. “Until he could get established as a writer, he knew he had to have some source of income.”

By late 1927, Pfeiffer became pregnant with their son Patrick and wanted to return to the U.S. to have the child. They spent time in Key West, Fla., before returning to the farm home.

At Piggott, the Pfeiffers built a writer’s studio for Hemingway in a loft over the old horse barn they used to store steamer trunks and other goods. The studio included a bathroom, bed and a slanted ceiling, but it offered a more important luxury — distance between the writer and his new in-laws as he struggled to decide what to do with Frederic Henry, the protagonist of “A Farewell to Arms.”

Henry, like Hemingway, worked as an ambulance driver on the Italian front and suffered a knee injury during a mortar attack. By the time the writer reached Piggott, Henry already lay in a hospital bed, trying to grapple with his injury.

Hemingway wrote about 100 pages of the book in Arkansas, later excising much of it. The full sticky heat of an Arkansas summer descended on Piggott each day, with the small rectangular windows of Hemingway’s loft only funneling in more dense, humid air.

Soon, he and Pauline traveled to Kansas City for the baby’s birth by cesarean section, an experience that later would enter the tragic final act of “A Farewell to Arms.”

The two returned to Piggott weeks later, but Hemingway soon cut out to Wyoming to finish the novel as Pauline and his new son waited at the Pfeiffer family home.

Hemingway “was not one to be in one place for a terribly long time,” Dismukes said. “He suffered from some depression and in order to alleviate the depression and get him writing again, he needed a new locality. He needed to meet new people, see new things, have new experiences.”

The Pfeiffer family accepted that and Pauline’s uncle even helped fund an African safari for the couple at a cost of $25,000 during the Great Depression. That uncle even helped pay for Hemingway’s deep-sea fishing boat and the couple’s apartment in Paris.

Hemingway returned dutifully to Piggott for holidays, sometimes writing short stories and storing manuscripts in a local bank vault. But the fame of being Ernest Hemingway soon found its way to Piggott. Paramount Pictures sent telegrams to Hemingway urging him to attend a premiere of the 1932 film adaptation of “A Farewell to Arms” — at a movie theater in Piggott. Hemingway declined the offer.

As Hemingway became more popular, his relationship with Pauline strained. They divorced in 1940 and Hemingway remarried quickly, later speaking poorly of Pauline in letters and among friends.

Not only did he lose his wife, he lost an editor and champion as well, Hawkins said.
“By the time he divorced Pauline, I think he was trying to forget he ever had anything to do with the Pfeiffers because he didn’t want to have to admit they supported him financially,” she said.

Pauline died in 1951 of a brain hemorrhage and drifted into Hemingway history. The Piggott home had changed hands a year earlier and, even after being placed on the National Historic Register, the then-owners remodeled Hemingway’s loft into a bedroom.

Arkansas State University bought the property in 1997. The house had fallen into disrepair, with soot from power surges surrounding electrical sockets and cracks overtaking the walls. The school re-modeled everything, restoring the home and Hemingway’s loft to the memory of those who visited or worked in the Pfeiffer home.

Today, an air conditioner for the loft hums in the 90-degree summer heat, a far cry from the shirt-soaking sweat Hemingway endured 80 years ago.

Inside the cool room, a period typewriter rests on a desk and a zebra-skin rug lies across the floor. An original zebra-skin once sat in the room, but the previous owners threw it out because it got “too ratty,” Dismukes said.

A poker table Hemingway used sits in a corner, with poker chips, cards and a copy of the July 14, 1961, edition of Life magazine open across it.

A black-and-white photograph of Hemingway’s funeral in Idaho dominates the pages, with the headline: “His Final Chapter to a Magnificently Told Story.”