The year 2005 was a disappointment in many ways, as the entire 21st century has been so far. Day in and day out, the story seemed to be: nothing gets accomplished, there’s no sense of progress, there are no new faces or new ventures, more and more of the vital sectors come under the control of crazy people, evil people, cronies, schemers, scammers, phonies, fanatics, morons, and incompetents. But we learned in 2005 that Arkansas has the nation’s best public restrooms and the nation’s only ivory-billed woodpeckers, and our outreach during the hurricane crisis might have been our finest hour. So it could have been worse.
In a heart-warming show of neighborliness and generosity, Arkansas took in tens of thousands of refugees from New Orleans and the Redneck Riviera after the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in late August. The relief and support efforts were more impressive and poignant for having been accomplished on the state and local and personal levels, with the federal government seemingly determined, for reasons that remain unfathomable, to impede those efforts to help.
The role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Katrina disaster seemed to be (1) keeping relief workers and supplies from getting in to the victims for as long as possible, and (2) keeping the victims from getting out to relief and safety for as long as possible. A brief passage from a New York Times news story two weeks after the hurricane showed some of FEMA’s handiwork from the Arkansas perspective:
William D. Vines, a former mayor of Fort Smith, Ark., helped deliver food and water to areas hit by the hurricane. But he said FEMA halted two trailer trucks carrying thousands of bottles of water to Camp Beauregard, near Alexandria, La., a staging area for the distribution of supplies.
“FEMA would not let the trucks unload,” Mr. Vines said in an interview. “The drivers were stuck for several days on the side of the road ... FEMA said we had to have a ‘tasker number.’ What in the world is a tasker number? I have no idea. It’s just paperwork, and it’s ridiculous.”
Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, who interceded on behalf of Mr. Vines, said, “All our Congressional offices have had difficulty contacting FEMA. Governors’ offices have had difficulty contacting FEMA.” When the state of Arkansas repeatedly offered to send buses and planes to evacuate people displaced by flooding, she said, “they were told they could not go. I don’t really know why.”
The U.S. Department of Labor announced in mid-September that it would reimburse several states, including Texas, for their expenses in providing relief to Hurricane Katrina refugees, but it wouldn’t give Arkansas the time of day. We were told to expect $0.00 in reimbursement. No reason given. Eventually a laughable pittance came in the mail. We should’ve sent it back and told them to cram it.
In a sort of echo of President Bush’s “And Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job,” Patrick Rhode, an erstwhile Arkansas TV anchorman who had just recently been elevated to the No. 2 position in FEMA, assessed that idiotic agency’s woeful Hurricane Katrina bungling in September as “probably one of the most efficient and effective responses in the country’s history.”
Cigarette smoking by adults increased in Arkansas in 2004, from 24.8 percent to 25.7 percent. We were one of only a few states in which it didn’t decline. Smoking is heavier in only five states. This from a federal report in November.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette began a feature story in April about a Red Cross blood drive in Searcy with this lead: “With a small prick, Three Rivers residents are asked to save a life.”
It was reported in November that the prude editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette had discouraged headlines that included the last name of the Razorback quarterback Casey Dick.
Vanderbilt 28, Arkansas 24. At Fayetteville, Sept. 10. Vanderbilt! Oh, my … Worst fears confirmed the following week: Southern Cal 70, Arkansas 17.
Worst whining: In the aftermath of the Southern Cal debacle was kiss-ass Wally Hall saying in the ’Crat that the USC coach was a bad sport and a “loser” for running up the score. In fact, USC could easily have put up 100.
Arkansas, 4th and 1 at their own 29, early in the first quarter, a new QB who had taken only three snaps, practically a gale at the back of the punter. Coach Houston Nutt calls a quarterback sneak. Off the turnover, South Carolina scores a quick touchdown and goes on to win by 4.
BEST pastime if you’re on meth
In September, White County Sheriff Pat Garrett said meth addicts like to search for arrowheads on farmland and in riverbeds when they’re using, and he said he didn’t know why.
The Museum of Earth History opened early in the year in Eureka Springs, presenting a “biblical view” of ancient history, meaning dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark and the usual creationist claptrap. A museum spokesman told the Chicago Tribune in August that Christianity itself rested on the literal factual truth of this nonsense. “If we lose Genesis as a legitimate scientific and historical explanation for man,” he said, “then we lose the validity of Christianity. Period.” Such ignorance would have been easier to dismiss if President Bush hadn’t been espousing similar sentiments at the White House around the same time.
When the cigarette he was smoking blew out of the window of the car in which he was riding one night in May, a Foreman man, described by police as “obviously intoxicated,” jumped out of the car window after it, and suffered only minor injuries when he and the cigarette both hit the pavement at approximately 60 mph.
When two armed robbers burst in upon the live broadcast of a shopping program at a Fort Smith television station in August, home viewers alerted police, who arrived to arrest the bad guys before they could make a getaway.
Best-smelling crotches at the courthouse
The Pulaski County clerk’s office proposed a dress code for employees in August that made it mandatory to change into clean underwear daily. The dress code was eventually adopted without the panty check.
“Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork” was the title Gov. Huckabee selected for his weight-loss book, published in June. Poor utensil choice. You don’t dig with a knife; you use a spoon. And the knife is rarely a fat saga villain, while the spoon almost always is. Ice cream, gravy, banana pudding: you spoon them aboard. Of course cramming down entire Velveeta loaves, the governor’s former specialty, requires no utensils. This inattention to subtleties and details in titling his book is a good indication the governor’s aim in writing it wasn’t really to help people lose weight as he had lost it; it was inviting them to admire him for having done it.
When a Fort Smith man drank up all the beer in the house in September, and insulted his wife in several other ways, and then fell asleep with his doo-wop-diddies exposed, she took a pair of shears to him. Charged with battery. Nothing in news reports about reattachments or attempts. Nothing, either, about the crime-scene residence being a trailer, but you wanna bet?
An estimated 100 venomous copperhead snakes began gathering nightly at dusk at a cedar tree on a farm near Yellville in August. They would congregate for about an hour, then quickly disperse. Snake experts, who said it had nothing to do with mating or feeding, were baffled. Sounded an awful lot like an old-fashioned summertime snake revival meeting. Do they speak in forked tongues at those things?
Best terror fighting
Homeland Security chipped in terror-fighting money amounting to $71,535 in August to buy the city of Poyen (pop. 272) a new fire truck. Asa Hutchinson, the gubernatorial candidate who was once No. 2 at Homeland Security, can expect a regal ride when he visits Poyen.
Worst birthday licks
Three exotic dancers and two other employees at a Jacksonville nightclub were arrested for battery in June after giving a truck driver/customer a 4:30 a.m. birthday spanking that he said got out of hand. The defendants got a tap on the wrist when the case came to trial in November, but the paddle they used was ordered destroyed lest they sell it as a curiosity item on eBay and make a profit on their “crime.”
Best dog euphemizing
A Hot Spring County police officer said in July that he had “euphemized” a dog that attacked him at a house in Malvern. Perhaps meaning he called it nice names before he shot it.
UALR, already the worst place in Christendom to find a place to park a car, disallowed parking in an additional 43 campus spaces starting in August.
Best horse and rider
The same stable that produced Smarty Jones the year before returned to Oaklawn Park in January with Afleet Alex, who won the major 3-year-old contests and, just as Smarty had done, went on to capture two of the three Triple Crown races and come agonizingly close to winning the third one. His victories in the Preakness and the Belmont were simply awesome, and his jockey in those races, young Jeremy Rose, won the riding title at Oaklawn.
Grandstanding federal immigration authorities arrested and deported 119 workers in a raid at an Arkadelphia chicken plant in July without bothering to see that their children would be cared for. More than 30 children, including infants, were left parentless, without anywhere to go. One couple sent back to Mexico left children here aged 10, 5 and 1. The Arkadelphia mayor said, “A lot of those families had kids in day care in different places, and they didn’t know why mommy and daddy didn’t come pick them up.” The Clark County sheriff noted that many of the children had been students for years at Arkadelphia schools. Local officials weren’t notified of the raid, but they and local churches assumed the task of trying to reunite the broken families.
Ryan Russenberger, 12, of Bigelow, was named national champion bubble blower in a contest sponsored by a bubble-gum maker in New York in July. Last year’s champ was from Conway.
Nearly the worst place to have a bum ticker
A Harvard study published in July ranked Little Rock hospitals 36th (fourth from the bottom) and 39th (next to last) out of 40 urban areas studied for successful heart attack and congestive heart failure treatment.
A Bentonville man killed a 5-point buck deer with his bare hands in November after it crashed through a picture window at his daughter’s home and repeatedly charged at him. He finally grabbed it in a headlock and broke its neck, then cleaned and dressed it and put the choice cuts in the freezer.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in June front-paged an article alleging that truckers peeing in plastic water bottles and milk jugs and then tossing them out the window had become a major litter problem along Arkansas roadways. It’s true Arkansas faced a number of front-page problems in 2005. But really now, trucker whizz?
Second worst litter
The Jim Bob Duggars whelped for the 16th time in October.
Jermain Taylor of Little Rock won the undisputed world middleweight boxing championship in Las Vegas in July. He successfully defended the title in December by again decisioning former champ Bernard Hopkins.
A Democrat-Gazette columnist said the Little Rock parade for Jermain Taylor after he’d won the middleweight boxing title was fueled by “button-bustin’ pride and excitement.” Somebody beats up somebody else in a fistfight and we’re supposed to bust our buttons?
The perfect Cheshire Cat’s smile, visible in the east between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Oct. 29.
103 degrees F. on Aug. 21.
It was still 100 degrees about a month later, on the day that fall fell. Still in the mid-90s in mid-October.
BEST reason not to go climbing trees
A rattlesnake lying on a tree limb 60 feet in the air bit a tree-trimmer sawing on the limb near Lewisville in July.
Twenty-three naked mole rats arrived at the Little Rock Zoo in April. Only 3 inches long, the naked mole rat is said to be the world’s ugliest creature — looking something like a cross between a toy bulldog and Stephen King. Did we really need a bunch of these little bastards to make life complete here in Arkansas? Maybe we should import some of those snakehead fish to feed them to.
Best play banned at the AGS
Caving to political opportunists in the governor’s office who saw another chance to provoke the homophobes, the Arkansas Governor’s School at Conway decided in July that “Angels in America” was unfit reading material for the 17-year-old scholars gathered there. It’s a Pulitzer winner, and the most acclaimed of modern American plays. But it has a homosexual couple, and it treats one of the conservative political movement’s icons a little less than reverentially, and there’s a dream sequence that does some gentle spoofing of conventional ideas of the hereafter. All in all, just too much for those tender young minds to handle. Ibsen needn’t apply at the AGS, obviously. Shakespeare. God help us should they have been exposed to Lysistrata.
Worst support for arts appreciation
Just a day after the governor’s office pressured the Arkansas Governor’s School to suppress a Pulitzer Prize play because it dealt peripherally with homosexuality, Gov. Huckabee made a speech to an education group in Washington urging greater support for the arts in schools.
BEST road-construction warning sign
On Highway 167 south of Little Rock near Ico over the summer: “Water Present During Rain.”
Killer bees officially arrived in southwest Arkansas in June.
BEST news if you’re a Central Arkansas ant
A virus killed the entire giant anteater population at the Little Rock Zoo in June.
A Little Rock teen-ager in May explained that the reason he was throwing concrete blocks from an overpass on I-630 near the state Capitol — one of which killed a passing motorist — was because he was bored. He was bored.
April 13. Not only was it a glorious cloudless spring day when the dogwoods and azaleas peaked, it was also adjournment day for the worst state legislature in history.
Oct. 21. The real first day of fall.
Nov. 1. The best all-round day since they started keeping records.
Fort Smith police arrested a woman in a domestic dispute in March when they found her hiding in her septic tank.
May was a tad dry but swell otherwise, sort of an April without the pollen.
We had a list. Kept adding names to it until it became meaningless. One measure: Jim Holt wasn’t near sorry enough to get on it.
Best day for wisteria
After storms cleared the air of some of the pollen on April 7, the wisteria burst forth in full dress in the sunshine of April 8.
While the legislators were doing their dirty work, the governor had better things to do than stay home and try to cajole or terrorize them into voting responsibly just every once in a while. Mainly, he was off trying to sell the national media on the laughable proposition that having shed a washtub of blubber makes him prime 2008 Republican presidential timber.
The ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to have been extinct since early in the 20th century, was confirmed in April to be alive and well and living in East Arkansas. Its prospects weren’t good, however, as evidenced by subsequent Game and Fish meetings enlivened by jokes about setting bag limits. Always and ever in the Natural State, stupidity reigns.
A straight-A, gifted and talented 13-year-old at Greenland (near Fayetteville) was benched and not allowed to play in seventh-grade basketball games because nitwit coaches there decided his hair was too long. News photos showed that his hair was in fact short by today’s standards. Nary an ear was covered nor collar overhung. A Steve Nash he was not. You wonder what the real purposes were in this flashback to the 1950s.
A Wall Street Journal report in April said that among the perks Don Tyson received in four years as senior chairman of Tyson Foods was $84,000 to have lawns mowed at his five houses. Another nice perk was $1.1 mil to pay the income tax on the other perks.
The pollen count in central Arkansas in mid-April was the highest ever recorded.
A national survey by a bathroom products and services provider in May named the Fort Smith Regional Airport as having the nation’s best public restrooms.
Tax Incentive Financing legislation enacted by the state legislature will cost the public schools untold thousands by allowing private property developers to rip off school property taxes and use the money to build shopping centers and other projects of dubious economic value to the state.
The obituary of a Lonoke man in May listed his accomplishments thus: “He was an avid hunter and fisherman, and he loved to cut down gumball trees.” Like those on Big Rock-Candy Mountain, no doubt.
Worst legislative cliche
Every single piece of legislation in the spring session that proposed tax breaks to promote business development was described by a sponsor as “win-win.” What the term really meant, as far as Arkansas and its people were concerned, was “lose-lose.”
A good year for the fruits, especially strawberries and peaches.
Two Ashley County deputies were fired in February for having been out spotlighting and shooting deer from their patrol vehicle near the end of last year’s deer season. They probably would’ve got away with it, but couldn’t resist entering their illegal kill in a Big Buck Contest, and the hunter who was otherwise going to win the contest turned them in.
At age 80, Frank Broyles said in February that he’d still be on the job as Hog athletic director at age 90. In October, he started courting the widow of a UA professor. In December, he married her.
Worst out of the box
In one of their first acts after the state legislature convened in January, members voted to give themselves and other elected state officials more of your money. Then they took up legislation to award themselves state retirement pensions after only five years of service. And to count time spent in the military as part of the five years.
Best Original Music Band in Arkansas
A Fayetteville pop-rock quintet named Odds won that title in the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase competition in March.
To publicize the plight of the homeless, members of an advocacy group in Little Rock announced plans in February to spend 48 hours panhandling for food and sleeping under bridges, but they gave up the effort halfway through because of cold weather.
Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart billionaires announced in May she’d finance construction of a $50 million museum in Bentonville to show off the $100 million collection of American art that she had quietly assembled to the consternation of metropolitan art mavens, especially those in New York, who seemed to think they had lost those works of arts to a provincial.
Worst understanding of what makes America great
The state House of Representatives voted down a simple resolution in February favoring the separation of church and state. No such radical ideas for this sanctimonious bunch.
Best thing about the list of military facilities slated in May for shutdown in a big new round of base closures
Little Rock Air Force Base, thought to be a prime candidate for inclusion, wasn’t on it.
It was the driest spring in Central Arkansas in 33 years; the ninth driest on record. (Stayed mighty dry the rest of the year too.)
News reports in February revealed that the Beebe School Board had for some years been plastering an anti-evolution sermonette in the high school science textbooks in that benighted place. These geniuses reluctantly agreed in July, by a 3-2 vote, to remove the thing to avoid litigation.
Best coaching gigs
Salaries of high school football coaches at Bentonville and Rogers: $89,000, $88,925. Oh, and the Bentonville coach got to hire his son on as offensive coordinator for an additional $62,000 per. And a half-dozen other coaches, running the annual Bentonville football tab to half a million dollars. This is high school football, now. ONE high school.
West Memphis police arrested a serial naked jogger in January. They had to taser him to reel him in. Cold as it was, if they’d had to grab hold of anything, it might’ve broke off.
Best appreciation for the Beach Boys and the letter G
An obituary in the Jonesboro Sun in January had this description of the deceased: “Bobby Wayne was known to have never smoked or drank, and the most surprising little-known aspect of his life was his admiration of the music of the Beach Boys. … The passions of his life could largely be summed up with the letter G: God, guns, goats, guineas, gas (propane), and gold.”
Left us wondering what it was he did with the goats.
Worst failure rate
During a congressional bankruptcy-bill debate in March, it was revealed that more than one in 10 households in Arkansas have declared bankruptcy in the last five years.
A pothead who robbed a car wash in Jonesboro in August paused during the getaway for a short nap in the front seat, and police found him there still snoozing peacefully with his tools and his haul beside him.
Between mid-March and mid-August the pump price for a gallon of unleaded regular in Central Arkansas rose 80 cents. It jumped another 47 cents in two days in late August. Within a few short months, it crossed the $2 barrier, then the $3 barrier. Bad pub from the windfall oil-company profits brought it back down slightly late in the year.
Best news for chickens who’d rather not see it coming
The Humane Society of the United States filed suit in November to require that chickens be rendered unconscious before being killed at processing plants.
Worst pageant news
A Mississippi outfit bought the rights in February to the annual Miss Gay America Pageant and announced its removal to the Magnolia State after 33 years in Little Rock.
Best news from the home
Pulaski County coroner Mark Malcolm said in January that a 1999 Arkansas law had made the state “the safest place in America to go in a nursing home.” The law requires nursing homes to notify coroners when a patient dies, even one recently transferred to a hospital, and the coroners can investigate for evidence of neglect or abuse. Malcolm said his office alone had referred 86 such cases to prosecutors and other agencies since the law went into effect.
Police charged a restaurateur and one of his employees with cooking up side orders of methamphetamines at a Russellville cafe in January. The smell of frying bacon helped to cover the smell of the meth being prepped, allegedly.
Best legal briefs
A Rogers lawyer got lost while duck hunting in the Wabbaseka Scatters in January but after slogging through the freezing waters for seven hours was rescued after removing his underwear, putting it on the end of his gun, and waving it at a passing helicopter.
Worst legislative embarrassment
A tough category because it’s so competitive, but state Rep. Bob Adams of Sheridan scored with his presentation of his bill to prevent adoption and foster parenting by households that include gay parents. Adams explained in a committee meeting in January that the bill had a “look funny” clause that would exclude prospective hetero parents who only looked or sounded gay, such as squeaky-voiced men and muscle-bound women athletes. Some funny stuff. Really really funny stuff.
The legislature at its worst
In a classic instance of legislative corruption, vote swapping, and kowtowing to rubes, a state Senate committee in March inflicted lifelong punishment on an untold number of Arkansas youngsters by killing a bill that would have extended to them fluoride protection against tooth decay.
BEST Ozark view
A deputy in Ozark was fired in January for “misuse of county equipment” for taking photos of his wife posing nude beside his patrol car.
A Cave City man was smoking a marijuana cigarette when he answered a knock on his front door in January, and was arrested when the caller turned out to be a policeman.
They were already blooming this year at the first of February, and the early ones gave the austere winter landscape a great little pick-me-up.
Slithering through the legislature early in the year was a special-interest bill that was said to represent the greatest threat ever to the quality of drinking water in central Arkansas. Its typically Orwellian title was the Water Quality Preservation Act.
The spring daffodils first turned up in appreciable numbers on Feb. 10.
Inviting the masses to admire and imitate, Gov. and Mrs. Huckabee did a covenant-marriage re-nup in a showy ceremony on Valentine’s Day. The event was apparently to launch a hot-air trial balloon for a 2008 Huckabee presidential candidacy, and the local media, especially the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, did what they could in the way of puffery and cheerleading.
A Pine Bluff legislator brought forth a bill in February to allow state legislators to buy for next to nothing mattresses, barbecue grills and other merchandise made by inmates at the state penitentiary in job-training classes. The slave-labor bargains wouldn’t have been available to the public, of course.
A dim-bulb state rep from Morrilton proposed legislation in February that would have established and legalized a vast gambling empire in Arkansas, with casinos, lotteries and the whole package, and would have nominated and installed himself as its president or czar.
Pine Bluff in June became the second big Arkansas city (after Fayetteville) to ban smoking in restaurants and most other public places. Fairfield Bay made it three in December.
A Benton man went out to demolish a shed one day in April, thought a small fire might help the project along, and wound up with a not-so-small one that burned down at least three buildings, a copse or grove, and the better part of a square block down by the railroad track.
438,000 at the state fair in October.
492,000 at the Clinton library in its first year.
Asa. He was such a bust with Homeland Security that newly re-elected George W. Bush bounced him, and, adrift, he gathered up enough lobbyist buddies and old impeachment pals to launch, from Washington, D.C., a 2006 campaign for governor of Arkansas.
The owners of the Hot Springs and West Memphis race tracks. Voters in the two cities approved the addition of highly profitable video poker machines at the tracks.
Worst judge of character
State Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, the Republican state chairman, testified as a character witness for a man convicted of kidnapping and assaulting a 25-year-old woman. According to testimony, the kidnapper burned the victim repeatedly with a cigarette lighter.
Best turn of phrase
In a speech at Conway, Judge Wendell Griffen of the Arkansas Court of Appeals called James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “pimps of piety.” Griffen is a Baptist minister as well as a judge.
Best swan dive to hell
In August 2005, rapist and murderer Wayne Dumond, released from an Arkansas prison in 1999 at the urging of Gov. Mike Huckabee, was found dead in a Cameron, Mo., prison cell. The death was apparently due to complications of cancer of the vocal cords. At the time, Dumond was serving a life term for the September 2000 murder of a Plattsville, Mo., housewife, and was the prime suspect in another murder.
Worst parade gaffe
Organizers forgot earlier this month to arrange a ride for Miss Arkansas, who traditionally leads the annual Hot Springs Christmas parade. Her previous driver hired out to another parade entrant. She turned down a last-minute offer to stick her in a mid-parade car with an Elvis impersonator.