Most years of Century 21 so far have been downers, ranging from glum to grim.
This year we might've moved up a little, into a kind of hopeful mediocrity. Sort of like the Razorbacks.
But only into the trashier outskirts of mediocrity. We might've made it on up into solid-ground, middle-level mediocrity but for the economy teetering ever more perilously on the brink. And as '08 dies it looks no better than 50-50 for Soylent Green in '09.
Here's how it is in Lower Mediocrity: More deer were harvested by automobiles than by hunters in Arkansas in 2008. Is that statistic a Best or a Worst? Having like Bush appointed myself the Decider, I'm going with the former. But then it's balanced by the earthquakes here in central Arkansas near year's end that are said to possibly presage a Big One coming along a heretofore unknown fault line.
No way that's anything but a Worst — if the prospect of a massive fissure where your finally-paid-for house used to be leaves you unsettled, or at least bummed, as it does me.
The annual b-w compilation follows, and you might notice the aforementioned balance of indicators, how it neither especially uplifts or demoralizes — a Best for every Worst, and of course, as Pap used to say, vicey versey.
A hillbilly creekbank wedding near Dover in May saw the bride and groom shot by a guest apparently offended by how their dog greeted his'n at the ceremony. The perp also shot two other people at the wedding for good measure, then lit out in his pickup, reportedly at speeds topping 100 mph. Other guests in their pickups lit out after him, and after a classic hill-and-holler chase he was arrested near Russellville. The national TV tabloid shows had a high old time with this one, especially with the garrulous bride with the trailer accent and the gaping gash across her forehead that made her look eerily like the Bride of Frankenstein.
The obituary in January of a Mayflower man began not by saying that he had died but that he had “answered the dinner bell to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” It went on to describe relatives who had died before him as “saving him a place at the table” and relatives who survived him as “aggravated at their brother for cutting in line” and “hoping they do not have to wait in any buffet line behind him.”
A 69-year-old Prairie Grove man was sentenced to six months in jail for indecent exposure in May after strolling nude onto his shrub-surrounded patio and being espied there by a sharp-eyed neighbor lady, who, according to testimony, had to do some major craning to spot something that offended her.
It was big news in June when, in an Olympics prep race, Tyson Gay, former Razorback sprinter, dashed the fastest 100 meters ever. Even the OneNewsNow website of the homophobic American Family Association ran the Associated Press news story about Gay's feat. Only problem was, the site's software had been programmed to replace the rather cheerful and respectable-sounding word “gay” with the more sinister-sounding word “homosexual” every time it appeared, so its banner-headlined article had Tyson Homosexual, rather than Tyson Gay, making the record-breaking dash. (Yes, they're morons.)
A Green Party state legislative candidate was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in Searcy in October for carrying a sign calling his major-party opponents “chickenshit” for not debating him. His opponents weren't the only chickenshits in this affair. His arrest was chickenshit, as was the bumptious way the police handled it and tried to justify it. Searcy itself, always the most chickenshit town in Arkansas, obviously still is.
The fecund Duggars announced in May, just before Mothers Day, that they would pop another one. Their 18th arrived in time for Christmas. (Watch this space in '09 for news of No. 19, to be named Inevitable.)
Worst state fair fare
Beef sundae. (JHC!)
It was reported in the Arkansas Times just this month that Andrew Golden, aka Drew Douglas Grant, now 21 and apparently living in Sharp County in north-central Arkansas, recently applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and that the application had been denied — and not altogether because Golden is one of the nation's most notorious mass murderers, he and his partner Mitchell Johnson having killed four schoolgirls and a teacher in the West Side Middle School shootings at Jonesboro in 1998, when he was 11 years old.
Oct. 26. A picture perfect fall Sunday. Cool, dry, opalescent, colorful. An ideal day to mosey around the splendiferous outdoors, not thinking about the national economy going down the crapper. Every one of the ensuing 10 days, through Election Day, were near exact copies of that beauty.
Arkansas voters at their worst
Arkansas voters decided in November that prospective foster parents and adoptive parents would have to have their genitalia, bedsheets, and matrimonial paperwork checked out and approved by a passel of bluenoses and bureaucrats before being allowed to take in and raise otherwise unwanted children.
• And it's not only gay people and unmarried couples that they hate. By far the biggest percentage shift from blue to red in the November 5 election occurred in Arkansas, a strong and perhaps telltale indication that racism influenced Arkansas voters more than it did voters in any other state.
• The old joke claimed we'd all be better off if the Arkansas legislature met for two days every 60 years instead of for 60 days every two years. But Arkansas voters went the other way in the November election, approving a full legislative gathering at the big trough every single year. A scary prospect indeed. What were you thinking, people?
A ghostbusters' group scoured the state Capitol one spooky night in July and were said to have crossed paths with several interesting “spirit orbs,” including one that said he wasn't a senator and wasn't named Edward.
On the same day in August that the Little Rock zoo announced the arrival via live birth of a new litter of really creepy-looking vampire bats, a group of those ghoulish protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church at Topeka, KS., brought their hateful street show to Little Rock for the funeral of murdered state Democratic Party chairman Bill Gwatney. This is the Fred Phelps group that more than anything likes taunting killed-in-action soldiers' families at those soldiers' funerals. It's supposed to have something to do with hating gay people, but who can imagine what really motivates these loons? Of the two arrivals, that of the fanged bats was less disturbing, less disgusting.
Best job title
Goat superintendent, Grant County Fair in September.
In one day, Sept. 12, the price of regular unleaded gasoline jumped around 75 cents a gallon in much of central Arkansas. The only excuse was that a hurricane was moving through the Gulf that might cause damage to some of the offshore drilling and refining facilities. Preemptive gouging — wonder where they got that sorry idea?
The state Game and Fish Commission in August approved a proposal to permit duck hunters to use spinning-wing decoys. The commission apparently approved the measure in the belief that in the long-running war of wits between ducks and hunters, the ducks had an unfair advantage.
The northern snakehead fish, a voracious Asian immigrant that looks a good deal like a big mud-slaked timber rattler, was discovered in a Lee County creek in April. Biologists determined that a breeding population of the much-feared fish had established itself in Piney Creek in Lee and Monroe counties. It's a badass fish, sort of a piscatorial version of The Borg, resistance by the native species futile. Nevertheless, a snakehead eradication program is due to commence soon..
Best movie news
Variety reported in November that Ethan and Joel Coen would remake the great Arkansas novel “True Grit,” written by Charles Portis. The first movie version 40 years ago (yipe!) had John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn but otherwise it was grievously marred by casting and scripting flaws. The masterful Coen brothers can fix that.
Several people were arrested in April and charged in a series of burglaries in the Hillcrest section of west Little Rock after they pawned a digital camera that contained pictures of them displaying and bragging about all the loot they'd stolen, including the camera.
Best watermelon news
A Texas A&M medical study reported in July that for putting lead in your pencil eating lots of watermelon might work as well as the popular erectile-dysfunction pharmaceuticals.
The kooky Mike Huckabee presidential campaign folded its tent on March 5, only after it became a mathematical impossibility for Huckabee to win the Republican nomination. If he'd kissed butt and played his cards better, he probably would've got the party's vice-presidential nod, which went to an even goofier provincial governor.
The Huckabee presidential campaign had no “bests” in 2008, but these were among its “worsts”:
• In January, Huckabee said he wanted to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it conform better to “God's standards.” He seemed to be urging amendments banning abortion and gay marriage but who the hell knows? Several wags thought he might be advocating having adulterers stoned.
• Huckabee campaigned in Georgia in February for a proposed state constitutional amendment to define life as beginning at fertilization and to outlaw most popular birth-control methods, including the pill, the patch, and the IUD. Later that same month, he endorsed a nearly identical proposal in Colorado.
• Admiring reporters called Huckabee the Quipster during his presidential run, and even after the campaign fizzled, the quips just kept on coming, including his ad lib knee-slapper to a National Rifle Association convention in mid-May about someone taking a potshot at Sen. Barack Obama.
The redneck vampire novels written by Charlaine Harris of Magnolia became a hit TV mini-series, “True Blood,” on HBO in the summer and fall. (The bit part vampires, if you'll pardon the expression, carried the show, in B&W's opinion.)
Thomas Coughlin of Centerton, who thanks to the world's most obliging judge got off in 2006 with just home detention, probation, and a few hours of “community service” after, among other crimes, shamelessly ripping off Wal-Mart and hundreds of the company's lowest-paid associates, satisfied some of the community-service debt by turning up in March at a lavish cocktail party for wealthy outdoorsmen, presumably to provide entertainment — perhaps by allowing the other guests to examine his pointless ankle monitor.
Cliff Lee of Benton was 22-3 with the Cleveland Indians, a team that lost half its games. He had no serious rival as the best hurler in the bigs this year. He won the AL Cy Young, and was the league'scomeback player of the year, his stellar season occurring after his having been demoted to the minor leagues for poor performance the season before.
Matt Jones, the Jacksonville Jaguar receiver who was immensely popular as the Arkansas Razorbacks' quarterback a few years ago, was arrested in Fayetteville in July on a cocaine possession charge. If it had been you or me caught red-handed cutting blow with a credit card, it's a good bet we'd be in the Big House now, but Matt got off scot-free, and can even have the offense expunged if he keeps his nose clean for a while.
At an auction in Chicago in August, a North Little Rock sports memorabilia collector paid $1.6 million for one of the few remaining 1909 Honus Wagner baseball cards that were originally a tobacco-company promotion. The Arkansas collector declined an offer to resell the card immediately at an $80,000 profit, saying he envisioned making a seven-figure profit on it when the national economy and the sports-collectibles market regain their old ebullience.
In April, Tommy Robinson of Brinkley, the former congressman, goon, and imbecile, again was ordered to jail, again for contempt, or for a number of contempts lumped into one appeal, in his epic and apparently endless bankruptcy case.
Best reason not to work under your car
In August, a Springdale man, angry at his girlfriend, went to the trailer park where she lived, saw her doing some mechanical work under a jacked-up car, kicked the jack away, causing the car to fall, seriously injuring the woman underneath it. Man was charged with assault, among other felonies, and got no satisfaction from the crime since, uh, it wasn't his girlfriend the car fell on. Some other woman. No word on whether his plea was, “Oops, sorry! Meant to kill somebody else.”
Former State Rep. Dwayne Dobbins of North Little Rock, a sex offender who was chased from the legislature three years earlier as part of a plea bargain, found a way to regain his old legislative seat unopposed, filing for the office minutes before the March deadline. The Democratic Party refused to certify him as its nominee, however, and in July the House of Representatives approved by an 86-1 vote a measure saying Dobbins wouldn't be seated even if he were elected.
? Mitchell Johnson.
Best ticket stiff
Chicot County Judge Fred Zieman died in March but his re-election campaign continued as the ballot had already been printed with his name listed as one of the two contenders for the office. Dead Fred got 36 per cent of the vote in the May primary.
Average voter turnout statewide in the May primary elections: 18 per cent. In Garland County, it was 2 per cent.
It was the best year for soybeans since 1979, the second biggest crop ever.
Lu Hardin snatches the gimme-grabby award this year from perennial winner Mike Huckabee, his mentor.
Best Arkansas athlete ever
A prime contender would be Torii Hunter of Pine Bluff, the longtime American League all-star center fielder. But Hunter himself, most recently in a New York Times interview in August, nominated Basil Shabazz, the prep star who was a Pine Bluff Zebra teammate of his in several sports in the 1990s.
A Faulkner County man was electrocuted in July after the electricity was shut off to his house trailer for non-payment and he tried to bypass the meter with a pair of jumper cables out of his pickup.
In the middle of the worst heat wave in more than two years, mid-August brought three days of blessedly cool weather, with highs in the 70s, and much-needed soaking rains. Life was suddenly worth living again. It warmed up again several times after that respite, but the hot summertime never really regrouped.
Taking a break from the presidential-campaign hypocrisy that saw her husband scrambling to win support from born-again right-wingers, Janet Huckabee was off to Las Vegas in February to attend a prizefight and spend a naughty night or two at the Hooters Hotel and Casino.
Worst rehab prospect
An 80-year-old Alma man was arrested in July for selling drugs. He was out on bond at the time while appealing a 70-year sentence he received in 2007 for a similar conviction. Four other felony convictions preceded that one.
Best Arkies on stage
In June, the Boston Phoenix, mother of all alternative weeklies, named Black Oak Arkansas as the best Arkansas rock band ever, and Johnny Cash as the best ever Arkansas-born solo popular-music performer.
A slimy black mold began a slow takeover of the Fulton County jail at Salem in May. It crept along floors and up walls. Modern science seemed helpless against it. People who came in contact with it became ill. Prisoners had to be relocated, employees reassigned. Explanations ranged from other worldly to apocalyptic. Can you say “Andromeda Strain?” (Other nominees in this category: Debbie Pelley. Tim Griffin. Thomas Coughlin. Jerry Cox. Elizabeth Jacoway.)
Darren McFadden of North Little Rock, the Heisman runner-up, agreed in June to run the football for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League for the next 80 games for $750,000 a game.
A 12-year-old Johnson County lad was arrested for drunk driving in May after he and a 10-year-old relative, also said to be “liquored up,” took the family pickup for a 2:30 a.m. joyride and wrecked it.
Best new plea
Innocent by reason of having been asleep. A Fayetteville man was arrested in June and charged with fourth-degree sexual assault after a 15-year-old girl told police that she had had sex with him and had become pregnant as a result. The man didn't dispute the accusation, but said he was asleep at the time and knew nothing of any alleged intimacy until the girl told him about it after he woke up.
It rained a foot at Mountain View on March 18. Several towns in north Arkansas reported more than 10 inches of rain that day, and smaller though still astonishing amounts were recorded all over the state. Ensuing floods over the next month (especially along the White and Black Rivers) caused untold property damage and crop damage and some loss of life. Nearly half the state was declared a federal disaster area.
Best lapse in demeanor
The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission reprimanded a Springdale district court judge in April for a “lapse in demeanor” for having referred to a man in a court case before him as an “asshole.” From press accounts of the trial, the description seemed accurate enough, but the judge accepted the reprimand, said he was in the wrong, and apologized.
A Latino woman, a 19-year Arkansas resident, the mother of three, awaiting a court hearing at Fayetteville on a misdemeanor charge that was later dropped, was locked in a holding cell at the jail in the Washington County courthouse on a Thursday afternoon in March. She stayed there in solitary confinement, without food or water or toilet facilities, for four days and four nights. The same bailiff who'd locked her up found her and got her on to the hospital when he returned to work the following Monday morning. He'd just forgot, he said. Just an “oversight,” authorities said of her ordeal.
In May, Wally Hall named Kane Webb, his colleague at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as the most gifted writer in America.
Worst cash flow
Once famous for its annual turtle derby, the dying little Southeast Arkansas delta town of Gould (pop. 1,305) formally declared itself bankrupt in a filing in April.
The Arkansas State University Injun Joes became the ASU Red Wolves in March. So we have a howl instead of a whoop and all's well that ends well. In September, ASU fielded the state's best '08 college football team.
A Ravenden Springs man who said he was mad at the government expressed that anger by crashing his car into the U.S. Post Office in the small Randolph County town in March. It felt so good that he went home and got his other car and crashed it into the Post Office, too. He wasn't hurt but the sheriff said: “We charged him with a bunch of stuff.”
Bill and Hillary Clinton released tax returns in April showing that since the year 2000 they have earned more than $109 million, most of it in speaking fees and book sales.
The Catholic Diocese of Arkansas told church members in February not to support or participate in the popular Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, an annual run to raise money to fight breast cancer. The diocese feared that some of the proceeds might be going to an organization that promotes birth control, family planning, and other such horrors. When it got its facts straight in March, the diocese cancelled the alert, apologized, and issued something of an ecclesiastical “Never mind.”
A small hospital in Johnson in Northwest Arkansas reported 22 babies born in 18 hours on leap day in February. No word on how many of them were Duggars.
In their previous game, the Arkansas Razorbacks had defeated the eventual national champion LSU Tigers at Baton Rouge, but the Hogs were simply blasted out of the Cotton Bowl at Dallas by another group of Tigers, Missouri's, on the third day of 2008. Final score was 38-7 Missouri, but it wasn't really that close.
The blooming japonicas looked mighty pretty against the new-fallen snow on March 4.
Hurricane Gustav made landfall near New Orleans, but Louisiana and Mississippi slowed it hardly at all as it roared up into Arkansas on the night of Sept. 2 with drenching rains and high winds that snapped trees and light poles and left some 150,000 of us without power, many for five days or longer. Hurricane Ike, a stronger storm that came ashore near Houston, howled through Arkansas just 11 nights later, on Sept. 13, but we got off easier with it. Despite its fierce winds and freaky tornadoes, there was less damage, less flooding, fewer outages. And it got on out of here in a hurry.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln got the coveted Golden Plow award from the American Farm Bureau in January. If you weren't impressed, rest assured that Mr. Douglas of “Green Acres” would've been.
Worst wakeup calls
January tornadoes are rare in Arkansas, and very rare at 8:30 a.m., but a fatal one touched down in Pope County at that time on Jan. 8.
A great wave of tornadoes moved across Arkansas on Feb. 5, killing 13 people in Arkansas, mostly around Atkins, and 55 people in all across the Southern states.
Morning storms in west Arkansas and north-central Arkansas killed eight people on May 2.
Pongo, 9, a mutt, was blown away in the tornado that hit Gassville near Mountain Home on February 5, and it took him nearly three weeks to make his way back home, apparently uninjured, to the overjoyed Harris family.
A 3-legged rat terrier named Tripod saved the lives of an elderly Batesville couple in March by waking them and shepherding them out of a burning house in the wee hours.
Worst pump news
You know pump prices have crossed some sort of barrier when people who are thought to be siphoning fuel are shot on sight. The first Arkansas instance of that occurred at Rudy on June 2. Three days later, the national average pump price for regular gasoline passed $4 a gallon for the first time ever.
Best pump news
The pump price for unleaded regular dropped by half in the fall — from $3.99 a gallon in mid-September to $1.99 on Nov. 4. Supply and demand. When the going got just too pricey, people quit going — or found cheaper ways to get there.
Nine cases of leprosy were reported in Springdale in February.
The early daffodils and jonquils were late this year. First ones we spotted: Feb.. 24.
Worst time to lose your cell
A thief dropped his cell phone while snatching a purse in Little Rock in January and was arrested a short time later when police consulted his speed-dial and rang up his mother, who provided them with an ID.
Marijuana was apparently one of the toppings of choice at the drive-through window of a pizza parlor in Fort Smith until an employee was arrested in April and charged with possession with intent to deliver.
Worst name for a fundraiser
A fund-raiser to promote colorectal cancer awareness in Little Rock in February was titled “Cut the Cheese.” Supposed to be funny? Another stupid Huckabee poop joke? Anyone want to claim credit?
A North Little Rock crime suspect named Turdell Watkins was captured in Chicago in November.
Each one of Mike Huckabee's previous four or five tomes of self-worship has been described here in the Arkansas Times as possibly the worst book ever published in any language on planet Earth. His latest, “Do the Right Thing,” published in November, is a worthy competitor against those others for most dismal Huckaprose ever. It might be the worst book of the lot, the turdell in the punchbowl of Huckalit, but it's hard to tell when you get down to that level.
The 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard began returning home around Thanksgiving from two grueling year-long tours of duty in Iraq. Maybe this time they'll get to stay home. Awhile anyway.
Here's a multiple-choice quiz prompted by events that occurred at Fayetteville in November. Say you stupidly leave your cell phone at a table in McDonald's. The phone has nekkid pictures of your spouse on it. Whoever picks up the phone sees the pictures and decides to share them with the horny millions by putting them on the Internet. What do you do about it? (a) Blame yourself for your carelessness. (b) Blame your spouse for having allowed the stupid pictures to be made in the first place. (c) Blame McDonald's and sue them for $3 million.
One evening in November, a Cammack Village blogger, just back from walking his dogs near Jefferson Elementary School, claimed to have heard eerie strains of “La Cucaracha,” played on a bagpipe, floating up from one of the houses along there.