Of all the nicknames, I’d forgotten "Roo Roo." But that’s what the birthday note said Sunday. That’s what several of my Mom’s sisters called me when I was a toddler.

Long time ago.

The forty-second year rolled around over the weekend.

Have we, the people, made progress in four-plus decades? Are we going in any sort of right direction as a state, as a nation?

In some ways, it seems time has stood still within our state’s borders.

We don’t like to talk about it, but race is still an issue. Many towns across the Delta, for example, have areas where only "white" people live and areas where only "black" people live.

Economically, we have our bright spots, but there are long stretches of patched-up state highways that pass through dirt-poor regions. An Arkansan is much more likely to be on the lowest rung of the economic ladder than on one of the top steps. Sadly, that means that many of our children live in poverty. We (myself included) talk about college football more than this tragedy.

From a business and industry standpoint, we haven’t changed much. We still grow rice and soybeans. We raise and slaughter lots and lots of chickens. We grow and cut down lots of pine trees. We have Wal-Mart. One big movement, though, has come with a purpose. We extricate natural gas now on a significant scale. What that will or won’t mean down the road is still uncertain.

On the education front, the Legislature has — under court mandate — thrown many more dollars at the system, but not only does the system look much like it did decades ago, many students are studying in the same buildings as their parents. To be sure, community colleges have emerged that serve a great higher educational purpose. A college degree is within the grasp of more of our people, but not too many of them are securing one.

The one part of our life that has fundamentally evolved, at least in semantics, is our politics. Time was, only Democrats won office in this state. "If Jesus came back to run for office, he better have a ‘D’ beside his name," the great journalist Ann B. Carroll told me in 1992. She was right. Today? There aren’t many Democrats holding high office, and many of the men and women who call themselves Democrats more resemble Republicans in practice.

Are Arkansans better off since I bounced into the world in 1970?

Some are. Some aren’t. Some are too busy trying to make ends meet to contemplate, let alone answer, the question.

From my perch, we have much left undone, and the future begins with our education system. We’re doing better, but we can do more. Only when we can certainly provide a technologically savvy and capable work force will we reap the economic benefits of our inherent work ethic.

Not necessarily to ponder our past or future or to lament or praise the state of our state, I chose to spend my birthday weekend doing not much of anything in one of my favorite places, Memphis.

What was on the celebratory agenda? A stress-free stretch in a favorite hotel. But as I sat in the lobby, wondering why anyone in the world would eat one of those peas with horseradish on it, I couldn’t help but reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Lots of work left to do. Gonna take a long time to do it.

All that could wait until Monday, though. There was great food of which to partake.

The appetizer menu had changed.



Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is rick.fahr@thecabin.net.