Sunday, August 26, 2007


I won't embarass him by using his last name.

I have a person in my life who is purely magical to me. Mark.

This post will not be able to do him justice. Nonetheless...

Mark and I met on a 'blind date' that evolved into a unique relationship that is always an eye-opening experience. Friends, yes. Chemistry, YES! Lovers, no. We are not in a box and don't wear a label, and I like it that way.

We connect on many levels.

Mark is one of the most self-contained people I know. I am not important to Mark, but Mark is important to me.

Mark has the gift of counsel. Whenever we are discussing a topic, Mark seems to nail whatever is the most important. I mean, he NAILS it!

Mark knows some of the trials I have encountered in the last couple of years, and my quest for another path. The moment I told Mark of my choice of the Clinton School he responded, "That's it. That's what you should do."

Mark's support of my choice never wavers. Thanks Mark. You are a miracle in my life!

Documentary Film

The week before Orientation we received an email from Patrick Kennedy alerting us that documentary filmakers, Christine O’Malley and Patrick Creadon, would interview us and film the activities of the school in order to ascertain the value of making a film about the new face of public service.

Patrick and Christine are producers/directors of the critically acclaimed documentary, Wordplay. Wordplay chronicles the world of crossword puzzles and puzzle enthusiast. The film was the second highest grossing documentary film in 2006, behind An Inconvenient Truth, and was nominated for an academy award. You can learn more about the movie at: The pair's current project is an indepth look at the national debt.

We were soon to learn that, while two of the biggest names in documentary film, Patrick and Christine are the also two of the most gracious people you'll ever meet. As an added bonus, tall-as-a-tree TJ Hemelbein was with them working on the project. As it turns out, TJ is one of those sublime introverts that is a very cool person once the veil is lifted.

With many things in life, we may know them intellectually or philosophically but are surprised by their reality when we encounter them experientially. What I am trying to say is, there is nothing like having a camera in the room all the time to teach you the reality of documentary film. One of the team was with us through almost every moment of orientation: lectures; the spaghetti and marshmallow tower-building team-building experience; receptions; pizza at Gusano's; the Travs' baseball game; you name it, they were there. Most of the time I believe that most of us successfully ignored the camera. Every once in a while, however, you'd turn around and find yourself staring down the barrel of the lens.

As evidence of the magic of talented filmmakers, I was totally relaxed during my individual interview. Most of the class reported the same. Patrick asked me about my decision to attend the Clinton School, my perceived responsibility as a student, and my opinion of my classmates. I guess that being an expressive extrovert served me well in this situation, because the moments flew by.

The grapevine has it that the project will move forward. The production schedule resumes in October. It will be great to have Patrick, Christine and TJ with us again!

What a great opportunity for the Clinton School and a chance to show the world why public service matters.

Tonight, I'll be watching Wordplay.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Last night, members of Clinton School classes 2 & 3 blew it out at the Arkansas Trav's baseball game at the new Dickey-Stephens ballpark. Assorted faculty members were there as 'chaperones.' We overcame the ballpark seating nazi who didn't want us switching from assigned seats even though the ballpark was 2/3 empty. (It was only 100 degrees at game start!) The new stadium looks out across the Arkansas River and silver arc of the Broadway bridge to the Little Rock skyline. The crisp beauty of this new venue almost overcomes my longing for the quaintness of Ray Winder Field. Historical manager and current Executive VP of the Travs, Bill Valentine, is honored by a restaurant in his name. He certainly deserves that.

During the game, we were excited to cheer on the Hamburger Helper Toss, the T-shirt throw, the banana race and a few others I cannot recall at this time. Sanford won the top prize for continuous chatter (mostly in my left ear), and Lukman took the title of head cheerleader. Hunter came close, late in the game, to stealing Lukman's title.

In fact, it was Lukman's rousing of the crowd that spurred the Trav's four run rally in the 4th inning. We stayed until the 7th inning stretch, all singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' loudly and a bit off-key. Certainly, the Clinton School group was the largest and best at the game. Another addition to our great start as School ambassadors.

All in all a great night of baseball, beer, rowdiness and fellowship.
And oh yeah...Arkansas Travs 4, San Antonio Missions 0.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ubuntu Postscript

Last Tuesday evening, a dessert reception followed President Clinton's address and the Clinton School Class 3 students were all invited to attend. Regarding the possibility of meeting the President, Dean Rutherford had warned us, " never know how it will go. Be prepared." I was already there. Having met the President while he was Governor, I had already experienced falling spellbound into speechlessness (a rare state for me - those of you who know me well can laugh out loud at this revelation) in his presence, and vowed not to be lulled into that state again. I knew I had to prepare something to discuss with him.

As I mentioned in Wednesday's post, I had placed a label with the word Ubuntu on the lapel of my jacket. This word has been given to me as a gift three times in the last three months. A friend who had visited South Africa was the first to teach me the word and it's meaning. The second lesson came from Bishop Kenneth Hicks, leader of my church's Peace and Reconciliation group, who shared with our group the wisdom of South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. I encountered the concept a third time while reading President Clinton's blog in which he writes about his visits to review the Clinton Foundation's work in Malawe on the African continent. Being one of those weirdos who tries to pay attention to patterns, trends and non-logical messages, I felt I had stumbled upon the concept that connected me to the President.

The dessert reception was lovely. The chocolate martinis marvelous. The room was filled with FOBs (Friends of Bill) and us...the Clinton School students. No President. And then, as Dean Rutherford later described it: ' amazing thing happened. The elevator opened and the President appeared. He stayed for over two hours, speaking to everyone there. He remained until the last man standing. Those who came down to the reception and left early...before the President's arrival...have to be sorry...' I know that most, if not all, of my Clinton School classmates were able to talk to the President.

When my turn came, the President noticed my Ubuntu lapel label right away. Yes! My strategy worked!...well, almost. The President told me of an encounter with 10 year old boy in Africa that helped him understand the concept. I hate to admit it, but I was spellbound for a few moments and don't remember all of the details of the story. I did, however, recover to tell him how the word Ubuntu had come into my life, and to remind him of the mother-baby healthcare advocacy work I shared with him and Hillary during the Governor years. The conversation ended with me gushing about my excitement to now be Clinton School student. He responded with a chuckle, a twinkle in his eye, and a "Well, we are very happy to have you!"

OK. So, I kept my wits about me in the President's presence much better than I had in previous encounters, but still lost my concentration for more moments than I had planned. I give myself a 'B+'. Perhaps, during my time at the Clinton School I'll have more opportunities to work on that 'A'. Or perhaps, I should resign myself to reality: the Clinton magic is for real. Resistance is futile.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 8th

After the President's speech, my friend and classmate, Sanford Johnson, wrote to me: "Are you as excited about all this as I am!?!?!" Upon receiving his message the next morning I responded, "Are you kidding? Couldn't go to sleep, couldn't stay asleep. " And that's the truth.

It was tough to show up at work on Wednesday. Still riding the high of the previous evening, I had a hard time conjuring up any level or concern for matters at UAMS. The best thing that happened to me on Wednesday was this: Ray Latimer loaned me his father's Pat Boone sweater to help combat the chill in my office. The sweater was too far too big for me and the style was something "Mr. Robinson" would have worn in his neighborhood. But what an honor for me to wear that sweater. You see, I pretty much think Ray Latimer hung the moon. Ray is a med tech/geologist/law school alum/wordsmith/genius...with the most amazing sense of humor.

As evidence, I give you the photo of Ray taken at the 2005 Halloween costume contest where he won the title of "Most in Character"

Ray Latimer is one my favorite people.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


As the old adage goes, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life"...except it was yesterday. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. Yesterday, I met my Clinton School classmates as we attended the inaugural lecture of the Frank and Kula Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series held at the Clinton Presidential Center here in Little Rock. The speaker, President Bill Clinton.

I wore a sticker on my jacket lapel with the word Ubuntu written on it. My classmates questioned me about it and I refused to elaborate only saying that I predicted he would somehow mention the word or it's meaning in his speech. More on this later.

First, we all gathered for dinner and a briefing in the Sturgis Classroom. Funny, I noticed that all of us FaceBook folks were drawn to each other given the comfort we felt from our budding on-line acquaintances. Dean Skip Rutherford briefed us on protocol and demeanor ("Just call me Dean" "Don't drink too many of those chocolate martinis at the reception" "No cameras allowed" "Cell phones off, no text messaging in the classroom or during other activities!") and other such important admonishments. We learned that his favorite book is Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, the story of America during the MLKing years from the '50s through 1963, and he asked for our own favorite book recommendation. The school will purchase a copy of the recommendation from each of us and place it in the glass cabinet for the public to see. Cool.

The speech was, as are all of his, amazingly and undeniably Worldview Clinton. He stated that the most important issue facing us in the 21st century was that of identity. He asserted that most of the global problems that we need to address related to the way we view ourselves and each other.

He cited three challenges (noting their interdependence):
1. "It's an unequal world" - supported by citations of American and global disparities.
2. "It's a more insecure world." - noted that the volumes of deaths attributable to political violence (including wars and other conflicts) was lower now, but that the perceived threat was much more personal now ("It could happen to me".)
3. "It's not a sustainable world." - asserting that America and the world had to deal immediately with our resource depletion and climate issues.

But ever (Worldview Clinton) hopeful, the President stated that these challenges facing us are "imminently meetable." Noting that we have spent $500 billion on the Iraq conflict - that's $500B on 25 million people - President Clinton asserted that the world's inequality problems are relatively "cheap to fix." We know how to provide healthcare and education, create jobs, and build sustainable communities. Supporting the idea of the interdependence of these challenges and solutions, he noted that the fight to end inequality would work to end terrorist activities. "Because we cannot kill, jail or occupy all our enemies, we must work to build a world in which we have fewer enemies."

Fascinated by the discovery by human genome scientists that our genetic code, person-to-person, was 99.9% the same, President Clinton urged us to answer the question: "Which is more important, our interesting differences or our common humanity?"

Reducing poverty, increasing security, and making the planet sustainable depend on "acting like what we have in common is more important than our endlessly fascinating differences. Our sense of identity - that will determine what will happen for the 21st century," the President concluded.

He threw out more gems than I could collect off of the ground (or write down), but a few include:
"It really does matter that you believe in argument and evidence over assertion and attack."
"In any discussion we should start with our understanding of reality...and respect those and listen to those with a different understanding of reality..."
"I grew up in an alcoholic home and spent years trying to become reality-based"

[Follow-up items: Review the UN Millenium goals and read about the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Bangladesh that the President is a fan of. ]

Back to Ubuntu. President Clinton did not use the precise word in his lecture, but it was certainly the theme. Ubuntu is all about our identity and humanity. The word has its origin in the Bantu language of South Africa and is seen as a traditional African concept. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this definition: "A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

The President told the crowd that, in parts of Africa, when members of different tribal groups encounter each other along a footpath, they don't say "how are you?", but greet each other with "I see you." Ubuntu.