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Smart Talk, Dec. 20

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Labor justice v. management justice

A race for a position on the Arkansas Court of Appeals may pit the workers' choice against the bosses' choice. The big outdoor TV screen at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce building at Markham and Scott streets has lately been displaying the name of Circuit Judge Rita Gruber, identifying her as a “new member” of the Chamber. Gruber has announced her candidacy for the Appeals Court seat now held by Judge Wendell Griffen, who is seeking re-election. In previous races, Griffen has been endorsed by the Arkansas State AFL-CIO and the Arkansas Education Association, the teachers' union (though it doesn't call itself that). During the unrest in the Little Rock School District, the Chamber has been sharply at odds with the Little Rock Classroom Teachers Association, an affiliate of the AEA. Griffen is not a member of the Chamber.

California, here we came

“People migrated westward in considerable proportions, with aircraft factories in the Los Angeles area acting as particularly powerful magnets. A survey conducted two years after the war ended clearly indicated that the conflict had transformed the city — a third of the inhabitants had moved in after 1940. Longtime residents did not always regard this change as progress. One of them complained: ‘The state of Arkansas has moved to California, the state of Texas has moved to California, and California has gone to hell.' ” — From “For the Duration: The United States Goes to War, Pearl Harbor-1942” by Lee Kennett.

Crime and Punishment

Circuit Court Judge Willard Proctor, whose Cycle Breakers probation program has attracted praise, scorn and — of late — increased financial scrutiny, recently introduced a new hoop that probationers under his watch are required to jump through: a court mandated reading assignment. Instituted in November, the new rules state that, within the next year, all probationers are required to read four books from a court-approved list. For each text read, probationers are required to complete and turn in a written exam and a two-page book report.

“If you do not know how to read and write,” a Cycle Breakers handout on the program states, “you will be required to obtain a G.E.D.”

The list of 13 books on the Cycle Breakers reading list runs the gamut from high school favorites Stephen Crane's “The Red Badge of Courage,” F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby” and H.G. Wells' “The Time Machine” to more weighty fare like Ralph Ellison's “Native Son,” Thomas Wolfe's “Look Homeward, Angel” and Faulkner's “As I Lay Dying.”

While Proctor didn't return calls seeking comment about the new reading requirements, Pulaski County chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson said that the limits of what can be asked of probationers are largely up to the individual judge. “Traditionally, judges have pretty much adhered to uniform requirements such as obtaining a G.E.D., attending drug treatment and things like that,” Johnson said. He added that Proctor's reading list — while novel — seemed to be within reason.

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