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The coast is clear — for now

Within moments of its on-line publication it was subsumed, overwhelmed by coverage of the nation's latest sad, if predictable, spectacle — the slaughter of a dozen innocents by a disturbed man at the Washington Navy Yard. Once assured that the violence was contained, however, the political class in Washington turned its eye to a poll freshly released by CNN. And then began linking to it in e-mails to operatives in the 50 states.

Hill runs for the House

House District 35 stretches from the northern part of Little Rock out past Pinnacle Mountain. Like at least a third of the state's House seats, it will have no incumbent in next year's elections. It would not be worth singling out except for this: Its announced Republican candidate is French Hill, one of the state's top-tier business figures.

Who’s Mark Pryor?

They were on their way from Little Rock to some political mission in the state's upper left corner so, naturally, they left Interstate 40 near Fort Smith and motored north on its newer cousin. A moment later they passed a sign proclaiming the asphalt to be not just I-540 but the John Paul Hammerschmidt Highway.

Reader mailbag

Occasionally I receive feedback from you — my dear readers — regarding a column I have written. Whether the emails are positive or negative, I consider them the highest compliment that something I wrote evoked a reaction strong enough for you to take time to express your feelings.

Lunch with Sen. Boozman

It's the noon hour on a Thursday, and Sen. John Boozman, R.-Ark., arrives for an interview at a downtown Little Rock restaurant. He takes a look at the offerings on a chalkboard menu and orders a grilled cheese.

Scapegoats can come in handy at times

Voting for president in Arkansas and other states painted in reds and blues seem like you are playing a lottery. It's like watching your daughter compete in a dance recital. You know what the outcome will be. You're going to lose the lottery money and your daughter will do okay.

Taking a real bite out of crime statistics

Pine Bluff Commercial columnist Matthew Pate took note recently that Aldermen George Stepps proposed a municipal ordinance to require owners of fast food restaurants, filling stations and convenience stores to install and maintain surveillance cameras inside their businesses. In less than a month, Pate explained, Pine Bluff had endured two violent, life-ending robberies of convenience stores and appeared eager to affect a solution. While Stepps is to be congratulated for taking the initiative, Pate added, he paid no heed to the expansive scholarly literature on the efficacy of these surveillance systems. And, Pate observed, evidenced-based, "empirically validated research" is something this council tries to avoid. The Center for Problem Oriented Policing concludes that the effectiveness of these systems for crime prevention is "questionable," Pate wrote. "In their paper, 'Multistate Study of Convenience Store Robberies,' Charles Wellford, John MacDonald and Joan Weiss conclude, '...the deterrent effects of security devices, such as alarms and video cameras, have received mixed support'." Similarly, W.J. Crow and R. J. Erickson's study, "Cameras and Silent Alarms: A Study of Their Effectiveness as a Robbery Deterrent," finds "[no] significant difference in robbery between stores with cameras and those without." Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice and is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany, notes another study determined that that to deter crime the surveillance systems must convenience the robber that he will be convicted if he commits a crime, he will be caught. In other words, it is necessary to "de-motivate the potential offender." "For this crime prevention process to succeed, two elements must exist: The offender must be aware of the cameras' presence," Pate added. "The offender must believe the cameras present enough risk of capture to negate the rewards of the intended crime." In language a street thug can understand, is the average take of less than $800 in a convenience store robbery worth the risk of lethal injection at a state prison in Lincoln County? Stepps and Pate probably did not read the early 1980s study in Pulaski County. The work is ancient history for academic circles. It seems the Pulaski County sheriff, who years earlier was assigned to Jefferson County as a state trooper, was looking for a solution to the high armed robbery rate in Pulaski. Tommy Robinson, with much fanfare, announced a program of placing hidden deputies in random convenience and liquor stores armed with 12-gauge shotguns. Yes, it resembles a police effort from a Clint Eastwood "Dirty Harry" movie. Robinson received a ton of favorable publicity from the program, which he called "Robinson roulette," in which deputies with shotguns would rotate in hiding at participating retailers. It worked. The number of armed robberies during Robinson's two terms as sheriff dropped 96 percent. He declared the program a success in rural Pulaski County, but a clerk was shot to death in a participating store in Little Rock. The thugs understood the new sheriff was serious. A 12-gauge shotgun is an answer to a social problem. It sends a much more powerful message to criminals than a pink iPhone and a pink iPad. Robinson admitted years later he did not have the personnel to implement the program on the scale he discussed publically. On a typical night, one deputy was assigned to the rotation, not the dozens he promised. "It worked," was Robinson's stock answer to his critics. • • •

Teen renews faith in White Hall’s young

The roots for this story actually began a year ago when six men who had been fishing together for a period of time reserved a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks for this past week. In the past few weeks one of the group, who is a cotton farmer and gin operator, indicated we should not count on him for the weekend. It seems several days of rain threw him behind the harvest schedule on his farm and at the gin. Another intrepid trout fisherman, a physician who contracts to staff hospital emergency rooms, ran into a scheduling conflict and sent his regrets. The remaining four cancelled the reservation in Missouri, but rented a cabin on the Little Red River near Heber Springs. Two arrived from White Hall and Pine Bluff at the cabin about 4 p.m., while the two driving from Jonesboro arrived hours later because of demands at work. Worse than a gaggle of teenage girls, they stayed up late Friday swapping stories and a few lies. Since they were fishermen, you knew the lies would begin surfacing sooner or later. I took my laptop computer to the cabin with hopes of finding time to complete a free-lance writing assignment. It is not the best way to spend a weekend fishing trip, but the assignment puts beans and taters on the table, as one of my companions noted. Saturday evening I hunted and pecked away at the keyboard, while the other three occupied their time watching television and their iPhones. All three carry the communication devices and one even flaunts two – one for work and one for personal use. As I looked up from my keyboard, they seemed engrossed in the hand-held devices. One was reading a novel, another was tracking football scores and sneaking looks at a movie, while the third member of the iPhone trio was getting text updates on his grandson's game in Memphis. At that point I decided the three – two over 60 and one in his mid-70s – were more like teenagers than teenagers. I probably need to buy an iPhone just for appearance sake or I may not be invited on the next fishing trip. Upon arriving home Sunday afternoon my mellow mood quickly disappeared. The left front turn indicator on my parked pickup truck was on the pavement, shattered in a dozen pieces. Probably some kid with a ball bat took a whack at the light, I muttered, thinking I should call the principals at the middle and high school and ask them to round up the usual suspects. I was wrong. It seems the 16-year-old who hit the truck with his motorcycle stopped, admitted he was responsible and left an insurance card. When I went to the youth's home later Sunday to make some basic inquiries, I was impressed to find a teen that accepted responsibility. Our world may be in much better shape than I thought. * * *

Tales of flying saucers and aliens from Bono

Over the years a good journalist will have encountered his or her share of news "brights" — offbeat articles that turn out humorous in nature. No one could mistake them for a serious news story. They are intentionally written to bring a smile to the lips and offset some of the less that fun news we must publish. A search of my wallet would reveal a tattered piece of paper I have been carrying for several decades to remind me what is truly news. The printed quote reveals how most of us view news stories — the good and bad — differently. "I read the sports pages first because they record man's accomplishments," a former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court once said. "The front pages record his failures." One story about flying saucers, aliens in shiny suits and a single Arkansas state trooper saw print several times more than 20 years ago. Some pernicious young vandals decided to "have some fun" after a spate of flying saucer reports in Northeast Arkansas. Each one filled his shirt and pants pockets with raw eggs, then took turns covering the clothing with aluminum foil. They would jump into the paths of approaching cars and waved their arms like they assumed aliens from a faraway planet would act. They threw eggs at several passing vehicles. They frightened a very pregnant woman, who called her husband, who in turn called police. The only trooper on duty in the county that night responded. Two "aliens" jumped out of roadside bushes in front of his police car in the dark. The trooper activated his car's lights and siren. The aliens froze, realizing they were in trouble. The trooper, who later retired with the rank of major over the uniformed Highway Patrol, approached the two and asked what they were doing. They told him the usual half-truth, half-lie. He grew up in a rural environment and realized he was not dealing with the smartest students at their high school. He ordered them to place their hands on the hood of the police car and began to "pat them down." You could hear the eggs shells shattering in their clothing beneath the foil as his flashlight rolled over their pockets. The two were soon standing in a puddle of egg whites and broken yokes. They decided not to mention their egg-soaked clothing to the trooper, well known for his poker face. After a few minutes of silence shattered only by the shuffling of egg-soaked shoes, the trooper told the two to go home since they were obviously not the vandals who had egged cars and almost caused one woman to go into premature labor. As they squished their way homeward — minus their foil cover — the trooper notified his dispatcher the problem had been resolved and the aliens ordered to leave the area and return to Planet Bono. A "bright" about the two youths and was published in an area newspaper and spotted by a Texas newspaper columnist. He elaborated on the story, as Texans often do. In Texas, he reminded his readers, the rule is one riot; send one Texas ranger to quell the disturbance. He wrote that Arkansas must have had a similar rule — for each flying saucer, send one state trooper. The bright generated its share of smiles. * * *

Give the dearly undeparted voters a break

It seems sanity has prevailed in the Texas quest to find "potentially deceased" people, dead or alive, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The craziness started last year in the Texas legislature when the Lone Star lawmakers adopted a bill described as an effort to clean up local voter registration rolls and prevent voting fraud. Legislators said they wanted the secretary of state and county voter registrars to check their voter rolls against the Social Security Administration's list of dead people. Even Texans acknowledge dead people can't vote, and nobody should be voting for them. I admit I have a prejudice about residents of Texas and Tennessee and don't put too much faith in their truth telling. However, county voter registrars, who also serve as county election administrators, complained they were covered up in work redrawing voting precincts according to the Legislature's redistricting maps changed to meet the U.S. Census. Legal action delayed and finally changed the redistricting maps, so the local work also was pushed back, the Fort Worth paper explained. That really delayed checking on the potential dead voters. Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade said she checked the Social Security Administration's dead folks list and found the names of about 80,000 people to check to see if they were alive or dead. If you are drawing a Social Security check or enrolled, you lose your privacy rights upon death, according to the agency. The name, month of death and last known address becomes available on the Internet, in case you wondering. Many of those 80,000 names came up as "strong matches" of dead individual's Social Security numbers. However, a large number were "weak matches," an indication part of the Social Security number matched but not all of it. Texas county officials culled the strong matches and eliminated many names from the voter rolls. Those that they could not be sure of — the "potentially deceased" — were sent letters. If you received one of the letters but were not dead, you were given 30 days to speak up or be stricken from the voter rolls. That obviously would mean some live people would have problems casting a ballot the Nov. 6 general election. Some very-alive voters filed a lawsuit in Austin. Texas voters are like voters in Arkansas: When in doubt sue someone, anyone. However, the Texas secretary of state and the attorneys in that suit reached a settlement: County voter registrars can take as long as they need to produce accurate rolls. Does that count as a legal victory for live voters? In Arkansas county clerks also serve as permanent voter registrars and face the same issues confronting their counterparts in Texas. Here, the clerks are also required to strike convicted felons from the voter rolls. It doesn't always work that way. We must be doing better economically in Arkansas than Texas. In Crittenden County investigators have uncovered a number of absentee voter fraud cases where votes were sold for money or exchanged for booze. One state representative admitted his participation in buying votes and resigned from the Legislature. All this indicates we have more class than the Texans. We buy the votes of live voters, not the dead. • • •

Follow the money trail and watch the lawyers

Sometimes the lady who delivers the mail to my home leaves correspondence I could do without. Such was the case recently when I received a notice of a proposed "class action settlement" in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It seems I am a prospective plaintiff in a civil suit. Since being a plaintiff is much better than being a defendant, I read the form letter. If I was charged for certain computer software purchased between July 1, 2008, and Aug. 23, the letter said, I might be able to participate in the proposed settlement. The hook was set. A claim form must be submitted by Jan. 17, or later, depending on when the court enters an order of final judgment. I could, the notice explained, do nothing; exclude myself from the class action, hire an attorney and file my own lawsuit at my expense; write to the court and tell the judge what I thought of the proposed settlement; or attend a hearing Dec. 6 in Chicago and ask to speak to the judge. The software program never worked right. I wrote the company and complained that following directions were as clear as mud and simply didn't work. And their reply: It seems the instructions were written before the software and it didn't work out as planned, the reply stated, adding a set of instructions that matched the software in my possession would be sent as soon as they could get around to it. They did send the revised instructions a year or so later, but by that point I had thrown the non-functioning computer disc in the trash. The new instructions were useless.

Closing of a library is like death in family

As we age, checking the obituary page becomes a daily rite for many. I read recently in an out-of-state newspaper about the pending demise of an old friend. The old friend is the branch library in Seneca, a small community on the Oklahoma state line in Southwest Missouri. The Newton County Library Board voted recently to close the branch, citing savings of $67,000 annually. Community leaders are rallying to reverse the decision and launched a petition drive to keep the library open. "Just like everyone else in (Seneca), our mouths are hanging open," Mayor Mark Bennett told the Joplin Globe. "Everyone is speechless." Missouri has long been a Republican state and you can't get any more conservative than the folks in Southwest Missouri. They have suspected the Tea Party members of being too soft on tax proposals.