Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
I recommend reading about the Civil War in the morning minutes before you’ve had your coffee.
From “Mothers of Invention,” a history of Southern women during the Civil War, here’s a woman from South Carolina:
“I do not approve of this thing. What do I care for patriotism? My husband is my country. What is country to me if he be killed?” — David Ramsey
I doubt you’re buying writer and Raiders fan Steve Almond’s argument (or his book) — neatly encapsulated by the writer and Seminoles fan Diane Roberts here — that it’s time we stopped watching football altogether. Even with the latest batch of off-field criminality — abuses sexual, spousal, child, and drug; with Aaron Hernandez’s capital murder(s) still close in the rearview — and the league’s disciplinary fumbles in response, not to mention the on-field stuff — life-shortening brutality; entrenched racism — how can I turn away when ACEboog1e #1 Cam Newton, LUUUUUUUKE Kuechly, Coach Riverboat Ron Rivera, and my hometown Carolina Panthers are rolling at 2-0 with a primetime Sunday night game this weekend against flimsy Pittsburgh?
The only alternative I can see is if rugby — a far superior, way more entertaining, and marginally safer sport (thanks to strict tackling laws), with fewer commercials and impassioned commentary—becomes as popular here as it is in, say, New Zealand. I don’t see it happening. But a clip from close to home has brought new eyes to the beautiful game from whence this sorry pastiche called football came: a twenty-second highlight from last weekend’s Arkansas State–Arkansas game has gone viral. Watch ASU scrumhalf Mike Baska throw a stunning around-the-back dummy, break free down the line, then unselfishly feed a long pass back infield to a streaking teammate for the glorious try (read: touchdown) and behold the perfect balance of individual imagination and team cohesion like only the sport of rugby can produce (sorry, soccer). For more head over to RugbyDump, an exceptional rugby highlights blog whose archives are a great place for the novice to start.
Rugby is gaining popularity stateside (and the quadrennial world cup is next year), but until it unseats football as the brawl-of-choice for American sports fans, I’m embarrassed to admit I will probably continue to support (and yes, Mr. Almond, thereby enable) the horror show also known as football — Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Carolina’s own Greg Hardy, et al. I was seven years old when my city got an NFL team and because of that I will forever keep watching. Go Panthers. Or, as our team’s motivational slogan puts it: #KeepPounding — Maxwell George
Jessica is the very sweet mentally handicapped sister of a good friend of mine. Recently her laptop was stolen out of the community room in her assisted living facility. Her laptop was very special to her and her primary way of keeping in touch with her sister and parents. If you have ever been close to someone who is mentally handicapped, you may have an understanding of how certain “things” carry a deeper level of significance to them, especially if it connect them to the loved ones in their life. Having something like a laptop stolen from your home, I imagine, could deeply compromise the feeling of security to a mentally handicapped woman. So today I recommend pitching in a few dollars to help Jessica with a new laptop. — Bryan Moats
Van Lang Cuisine is a restaurant located in a shopping center across University Avenue from UALR, next door to a laundromat called Funwash. In the windows are hung pink curtains, and the front counter, rarely occupied, is piled high with inexplicable golfing trophies. The menu is approximately half-Vietnamese and half-Korean, a compromise that apparently reflects a change in ownership in recent years. It is a gorgeous menu, a menu with stunning professional food photography that is physically painful to flip through if you are hungry, which I was on Saturday when I first visited the restaurant. I had the beef pho, my girlfriend had bibimbap. We also ordered dumplings and, for some reason, iced coffee. I recommend all of it, even the iced coffee. The rest of the day rushed by in a Van Lang haze, and I can’t stop thinking about going back. The Yelp crowd is divided on the place, but who are you going to believe? — Will Stephenson
I read a review awhile back lauding one of my favorite existent bands, Future of the Left, for their willingness to make music that is ugly and angry (and very funny) at a time when indie rock is (was?) dominated by the sincere, the sweet, and the twee. Don’t get me wrong, Justin Vernon’s voice is a lovely, sad, wonderful thing, but in a difficult and frustrating world, sometimes a lovely, sad, wonderful thing is the last fucking thing you want to see or hear. Sometimes a little fury is necessary to make it through the day. So, in a similar vein, I am recommending that you read something by Sam Lipsyte as an antidote to the bearded earnestness of too much contemporary fiction.
Actually, because I read slowly and not very well, I’ve only read two things by Lipsyte. They’re both hilarious, brutal little stories (and, behind it all, genuinely tender as well). There’s “The Dungeon Master,” which for anyone who’s experienced the certain brand of teenage loserdom referenced in the title will read like a window directly into your lonely past. And more recently, “The Naturals,” which includes, among other things, a professional wrestler who performs under the name “the Rough Beast of Bethlehem.” It’s sort of meta-fiction (Lipsyte’s slangy, thrilling, just-on-the-cusp-of-making-any-sense-at-all language recalls Donald Barthelme) and sort of farcical tragedy. And, at the risk of dragging this down into self-seriousness, it’s also sort of cultural critique. Here’s Lipsyte commenting on “The Naturals” in the New Yorker:
“I guess part of this story stems from witnessing how, with some of the increasing vagueness in job definitions, people have come to rely on storytelling or the idea of creating narratives as a catchall. My dentist is a storyteller, weaving a narrative from my bloody gums. My accountant uses numbers to tell a story about my debts and the threat of ruin. Sadly, my barber doesn’t say squat. I’d welcome a story from him. But it’s also an intrinsic part of sales these days. You don’t just buy some jam or a loaf of bread or a chair or a car. You have to hear a whole story about how the product came about, often a tedious tale about how somebody quit the rat race (after making a mint in advertising or data mining or manufacturing weapons) and discovered an old family recipe and then made friends with local farmers and woodsmen. Or a team of engineers got together and asked themselves one simple question. It’s always one simple question. Never a series of complicated questions. The jam is usually great and the chair well crafted. The car is a gleaming wonder. But the narrative angle gets annoying after a while.” — Benji Hardy
I’m so proud of the Arkansas Times this week, for so many reasons, none of which have to do with them cutting my paycheck every two weeks. This is a place that actually moves the ball in the right direction sometimes, Over the past 40 years, it’s been home of so many great Arkansas writers who I admire. This week, I want to recommend what I think is one of the best-ever stories by the person who is arguably the best-ever writer to ever grace these pages: Bob Lancaster’s piece “The Devil on Trial,” published in the Times on April 7, 1994. Therein, Bob digests his thoughts after attending the trials of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, the boys who would come to be called The West Memphis Three. While the rest of Arkansas media was busily spit-roasting the three teenagers, Bob had the wisdom to see through the sound and fury and recognize that the prosecution’s case signified nothing.
As Bob put it: “I never got the sense that the trials were an earnest exploration of the question of whodunit. They were, bottom line, show trials—by people under pressure to “do something”—something tidy and legal— about a right-here-in-River-City atrocity. By two sides each looking to win the case by showing up the opposition as just a little more incompetent and ineffective than itself. Show trials of the “It’s coming…It’s coming…It’s gone” variety in Huckleberry Finn…. Toward the end of the second trial, the Jonesboro trial, another question arose more pressing than whodunit. It was, Had these boys been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in this court of law? This one easier to answer, the answer being no. They hadn’t been proved guilty. They hadn’t been proved anything. When the prosecution rested the state’s case, about all it had proved was (1) that the murders had indeed occurred, and (2) how the victims died. It had proved the deed and the how, but not the who, the why, the where, or even the when. Its who, why where, and when were supposition, guesswork, rumor, and bad courtroom Vaudeville. No motive, opportunity not clearly established, time of death disputed, and not a single shred of tangible evidence linking any of the defendants to the crime. What case?”
It would take another ten years before a significant portion of the rest of America believed what Bob did when he walked out of court that day. And even though doubting the guilt of the West Memphis Satanists was likely an unpopular position to have at the time, he wrote it, and the Arkansas Times ran it. And that, friend, is why I work at the Arkansas Times. — David Koon
Get a calendar. Put a big X on Sept. 27. Pray for crisp weather. If it’s sunny and pleasant, pack a picnic that morning. Drive to Conway. You’re heading to 1 p.m. kickoff of the Hendrix College football game against Birmingham Southern, a battle of wanna-be titans of the kudzu circuit of semi-elite Southern private schools. No, you don’t have to leave early to fight for a parking space. Crowds are small. There’s tailgating close to the stadium. The team is 2-0 (open date this week but I won’t be here next week to recommend attendance contemporaneously). The Warriors run and gun. They may be smaller and slower than SEC gladiators, but they have fun. If you leave early, lots of places in Conway sell beer now. — Max Brantley