Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
An open house at the Newton County Jail will be held from 1-4 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct., 21, 22 and 23, and a town meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 to inform the voting public on the need for a new county jail.As I have explained in earlier posts here and here, the current jail was built in 1903, and state regulators are threatening to close it in 2009 because it does not meet state standards. (See photos of the jail here). A 1/2 cent sales tax to finance construction of a new jail is on the Nov. 4 ballot; a further 1/2 cent sales tax increase would pay for the facility's ongoing operation and maintenance. Much as the problems associated with the old jail have been in the local news in recent months -- even years -- the open house seems like a good idea for fostering voter buy-in for a costly, albeit necessary, project.
In other front-page headlines:
- "Yard sale proceeds help fund scholarships" tells of a "city-wide" yard sale to raise funds for the county's Single Parent Scholarship (SPS) Fund. Of interest to those who, like me, think about how rural communities solver their problems and improve the lots of their citizens is the fact that the proceeds are matched dollar-for-dollar by funds from a state program. The story reports that, since its inception (no date specified), the single-parent SPS fund has granted 234 scholarships worth more than $95K to 82 people. Thirty of those have completed degrees.
- "Fall color is the theme of 47th tour" promotes the area's annual fall foliage tour. School buses will travel a scenic route; the cost is $6/person. This event is sponsored by the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, the County Extension Service, the County Beautification Committee, the Jasper School District, and the U.S. Forest Service-Big Piney Ranger District.
- "Angel Works Thrift Store part of downtown scene" is a feature story about this non-profit program that employs developmentally disabled adults.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The story features lots of rich and interesting quotes from voters, some of them openly racist.
Mr. McCain may have an opening: 35 interviews over three days offer up a conversation about race and presidential choices, and that is where the greatest uncertainty lies for Mr. Obama. Sometimes race talk runs like a subterranean river. Sometimes it floats right on the surface.
Palin as "redneck woman" and rural voters as discerning enough to reject her (though not necessarily on that basis)
Regarding the first, Warner recounts something Palin tells country musician Gretchen Wilson: "Someone caled me a 'redneck woman' once, and you know what I said back? 'Why, thank you.'" Warner offers this comment on the exchange, suggesting that Palin has a blind spot with regard to "what it takes for real women to make progress in seizing power.":
I guess Palin has never seen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” music video, which, in addition to images of an attractive Wilson driving a variety of fuel-inefficient vehicles, features a couple of stripper-styled babes dancing in cages, one of which is made of chains.Warner's criticism strikes me as more balanced than many we've seen since Palin burst onto the national political stage because, like a few other elite NYT columnists (here and here), Warner gives Palin her due (perhaps more than that) with respect to how she communicates, suggesting Palin is on par with "her crowd pleasing male peers."
She is a woman who is able to not only get by but also be quickly promoted on the kinds of attributes that were once the exclusive province of unremarkable white men: rapport, the right looks or connections, an easy sort of familiarity.Warner quotes Colin Powell regarding what she calls some of Palin's other "admirable" and "enviable" qualities: her ambition and her ability to connect with an audience, as well as her "looks, her grace, and her charm." I think Warner (along with Powell) hits the nail right on the proverbial head. Even with these admirable qualities, Palin is really just ordinary, and we don't have to criticize her verbal blunders and folksiness in order to figure out why she is not qualified to be vice president. (See my earlier comments here).
Assuming that rural and small-town voters are the "real America" as Palin and the Republicans have asserted repeatedly in recent months (a debatable proposition, of course), Warner also gives them their due. She suggests that they, too, want more in a political leader than Palin has to offer.
Time --and election returns--will reveal whether Warner's right about that . . .
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I started listening to the audio version of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007) several weeks ago. I found the first few chapters delightful, so I decided the book would be a good one to share with my family as we drove through the Southwest on vacation. The book chronicles the Kingsolver-Hopp family’s year as “locavores.” Their year of living locally began with a move from their long-time home in
I’ve had the same experience both times I’ve listened to the first few chapters of the book. It’s made me cry. What is it, I have pondered, about Kingsolver’s tale, her use of language, or her lovely voice that keeps bringing tears to my eyes? I’ve finally concluded that the book is emotive for me on three bases:
- Kingsolver’s tender descriptions of her garden, orchard, and the food they produce;
Her incredible sense of place and home, as evinced in the chapter titled "Called Home"'
Her extraordinary respect for her rural neighbors and their ways, reflected in rich and authentic depictions of both
Friday, October 24, 2008
Concerns about so-called prison-based gerrymandering have grown as the number of inmates around the nation has ballooned. Similar disparities have been identified in upstate New York, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Critics say the census should count prisoners in the district where they lived before they were incarcerated.
I have found myself annoyed in recent weeks about media commentary regarding Sarah Palin’s use of language and other aspects of how she communicates. Such commentary has touched on several related but distinguishable issues. Among them are accent, use of colloquialisms or folksy figures of speech, cogency and coherence of unscripted remarks, and intellect. What’s bugging me is that some commentators entangle Palin’s use of language and her accent on the one hand with the caliber or substance of her policies and experience level on the other. I don’t find the former problematic per se, while I am deeply troubled by the latter. But I am also increasingly bothered by the media’s insistence on linking all of the above in a way that only exacerbates the resurgence in the culture wars that has been triggered by Palin’s nomination.
In the wake of the vice pesidential debate early this month, a number of columnists had a field day (oops, is that an unacceptable colloquialism?) with how Palin expressed herself. To some extent, media commentators collapsed what they had to say on that front into the policies she espouses and her preparedness to be President. Roger Cohen’s Oct. 6 column is an excellent example of this. His cleverly titled “Kiplin’ v. Palin” piece used Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919) to emphasize that we are living in perilous times. Like many other recent commentators, he quoted Palin at length:
“One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let’s commit ourselves just everyday American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say ‘Never Again.’ Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those managing our money and loaning us these dollars.”
I’m sorry, Governor Palin, words matter.
Cohen elaborates that "'Never Again' is a hallowed phrase," applicable to genocide, not the mortgage crisis, and cites this as evidence that the "world's gravity escapes her."
Fair enough. In Palin’s effort to express to voters her commitment to them, she insensitively invoked this weighty phrase. Later, in the same column, though, Cohen pokes fun at Palin’s accent, as manifest in her failure to enunciate clearly.
Palin, Mainstreeter that she is, loves to drop her g’s, so she’d no doubt call the poet Kiplin’. She might have asked, with that wink, to call him “Rud.”
That’s cutesy politics. But pigs still don’t have wings. The world’s still a dangerous place.
But isn’t Cohen’s dig at Palin’s dropped g’s done to facilitate his own cutesy headline, “Kiplin’ v. Palin”? His earlier point about the world’s gravity was stronger without the latter one regarding her enunciation thrown in. So, what is Cohen really criticizing, and precisely which of Palin’s shortcomings goes to her fitness to be vice president?
All of this had led me to think more about when colloquialisms and accents are OK and when they are not. That is, when does their use brand the speaker an idiot – or at least among the uninitiated, the unclean, and certainly the un-elite? Are the accents and expressions associated with urban places such as the Bronx and
I have long been under the impression that some Senators and members of Congress from rural states and from the South acquired a lot of power in
Some commentaries on Palin don't hit below the (communications) belt but rather stick to the substantive issues. They include this one by Thomas Friedman and this one by David Brooks. Brooks goes as far as to call Palin "smart," while also seeing her as reflective of the Republican Party's turn to anti-intellectualism. I think he’s right. Thomas Friedman sticks to criticizing her policies and noting some inconsistencies among them. He also focuses on her lack of experience. All are fair points.
But other columnists have too closely linked aspects of Palin’s use of language that do not necessarily reflect on her intellect, with other aspects of how she communicates, which almost certainly do. Maureen Dowd’s acerbic “Sarah’s Pompom Palaver” mocks Palin’s use of “doggone,” “bless her heart,” and “reward’s in heaven.” Dowd is at least partially redeemed in my eyes because she also notes the awkward relationships that both Bush Presidents, among others, have with the English language.
Indeed, Dowd makes an interesting point about the Bushes that may shed light on Palin’s use of colloquial language. Dowd notes that “being mush-mouthed helped give the patrician Bushes the common touch.” Perhaps Palin has reasons other than habit for her use of language? These might include an effort to seem less intimidating, to be purposefully self-deprecating. Seems like the sort of thing a powerful woman might do. Easy as it is to forget, Palin is a powerful woman in
Thomas Friedman began his recent column with the metaphor “shooting fish in a barrel,” invoking it to express how easy it is to criticize Palin. What an apt use of a wonderful figure of speech. In that same paragraph Friedman tells us what Palin said that “really sticks in my craw.” Just this week in an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said he was in “hog heaven.” Did anyone flinch when Friedman and Krugman rolled out those folksy expressions? What would Dowd’s or Cohen’s response have been if Palin had used one of these metaphors during the debate or during one of her national interviews? Is it only the un-elite, outsiders who are not permitted to use what might be considered their own expressions? Does it take elite appropriation of such bits of linguistic
Dowd makes another point about how Palin communicates, noting that her sentences “def[y] diagramming.” Palin’s spoken paragraphs, so often quoted in full of late, are certainly not very lucid. (Indeed, it can be difficult to know where the paragraph breaks are supposed to go since these are transcripts of spoken comments.) But how often do the unscripted comments of public speakers parse well, let along perfectly? I’ve listened closely to the comments of Biden, McCain and Obama in recent debates.
Bottom line: We should be clearer about what’s really wrong with Sarah Palin—as a communicator and as a candidate. Is it the figures of speech she uses? Her accent? Her failure to enunciate or pronounce properly (e.g., that “g” problem and her W-like struggle with “nuclear”)? Or the fact that she appears not to have a comprehensive grasp of the issues of the day and that she has had little relevant experience?
Of course these are serious times, and they absolutely call for serious leaders. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Sarah Palin is not adequately serious (to use Cohen’s adjective of choice) and, as significantly, that she doesn’t have the experience to be vice president or President. The fact that she’s a little on the folksy side is not one of them. The implication that Palin is not up to the task because she uses colloquial figures of speech not only misses the mark, it aggravates the culture wars. (Why do you think those men in steel-toed boots and Carhartts are rallying around her? It is likely not because they have always wanted a woman to be
Palin may be both unqualified and folksy, but surely she isn’t unqualified because she’s folksy.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The eco-friendly hotels (no sheets to change) are cheap and appeal to the country’s many cyclists, nature lovers and outdoorsy families. Sleeping accommodations range from open lofts filled with bales of hay, to feed stalls furnished with wooden platforms. And while a few hotels have added more civilized amenities like privacy curtains and bottles of wine to take to bed, most still require that guests bring their own sleeping bag and towels.
Dirk Johnson and David Herszenhorn write here about the role of earmarks in the re-election campaign of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson, while the topic looms larger still in Carl Hulse's story about Kentucky's Mitch McConnell,"A Senate Leader's Pork-Barrel Punch."
Here's an excerpt from from the former story:
And here are some from the story about McConnell, which details the federal funds he has helped deliver to Kentucky over his many years in the Senate:
For his part, [Johnson's Republican opponent] Mr. Dykstra, a social conservative educated at Oral Roberts University, has called Mr. Johnson a “workman-like, bring-home-the-bacon” sort of politician.Democrats here heartily welcome the description. People in some parts of the country might consider earmarks a symbol of waste, but in South Dakota, according to Mr. Jarding, the Johnson aide, “if we don’t get earmarks, we don’t have water running to some people’s houses.”
Mr. McConnell’s focus on federal aid illustrates how he and other lawmakers view such legislative earmarks as valuable political currency back home despite their increasingly bad name in Washington. It also shows that in the current hostile environment, Mr. McConnell has decided to focus less on overarching policy issues than on old-fashioned pork.Lunsford points out that McConnell has helped "Bush to create an economic catastrophe" by blocking health and tax policies that are ultimately more valuable to the state's residents than "a few local projects." I would say Lunsford's got a good point there. Empirical studies show that per capita federal aid to residents nationwide is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to what states are now providing for their residents in terms of infrastructure and services. Affordable health care and equitable tax policies at the federal level sound a whole lot more valuable than the urban-focused earmarks noted in this article.
His opponent, who is pushing a “Ditch Mitch” theme, says it is with good reason. Mr. McConnell may sprinkle money around the state, but the Lunsford campaign calculated it at about $30 per capita last year, an amount the Democrat labels “chump change.”
Later in the story, explaining his recent hospital visit to an ailing South Dakota journalist, Senator Johnson explains that the journalist had visited Johnson when he was in the hospital following his brain hemorrhage. Thus Johnson, like his constituents, also evokes "the sort of loyalty and sense of caring that tends to resonate in South Dakota."
“We’re a loyal state,” Mr. Lefler said, “so people will back Johnson.”
Most polls show Mr. Johnson, who is seeking a third term, leads [the Republican opponent] Mr. Dykstra by comfortable margins.“South Dakota is a very kind state,” said Steve Jarding, a Harvard political scientist on leave to run Mr. Johnson’s re-election campaign. “People were rooting for Tim — Democrats, Republicans, independents — they wanted him to be O.K.”
Here's an excerpt from the NPR report:
Republican John McCain was doing so poorly among a key voter group during the first three weeks of October, it seemed unlikely he could capture the presidency.
That's what a newly released survey indicates.
The poll of 841 likely voters in rural counties in battleground states was conducted during a three-week period from October 1-21. Rural voters were instrumental in the election and re-election of President Bush, and big Republican margins in rural areas are considered critical to a John McCain victory next month.
The survey had Democrat Barack Obama slightly ahead, 46 to 45 percent, among the rural voters polled. That's a statistical dead heat during the survey period.
"That is really bad news for John McCain. If the rural vote is essentially split in these swing states, then John McCain is certain to lose," says Seth McKee, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. McKee specializes in rural voting patterns.
"In 2004, George Bush won the rural parts of the battleground [states] by 15 points," notes Anna Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who conducted the bipartisan survey. "It was his base, and he got a massive amount of voters to turn out in those battleground states. It drove his victory."
But in 2008, Greenberg says, "John McCain is struggling just to win the rural vote in the battleground. That was supposed to be his base. If he can't win the rural battleground with substantial margins … it seems very unlikely that he can win this election."
The poll surveyed 841 voters in rural counties during the period Oct. 1-21. All counties were in the swing states of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The Montana story is about the half-built Moonlight Basin ski resort which had its financing cut off when Lehman Bros. went bankrupt a few weeks ago. The resort's owners are now turning to Montana banks, where they "know the board of directors." They are also turning away from debt financing and instead looking for investors, a turn which will slow the growth of the resort. Meanwhile, whether the resort will open this season is in question, and many have been laid off. In town, a waitress is quoted as expressing her amazement that "we're feeling the effects of [the financial crisis on Wall Street] from this small little town in Montana."
The Louisiana story is about the ascendancy of small-town, local banks in the midst of the financial crisis. Here are some excerpts, beginning with a quote from a local banker, Harold Turner. Note the emphasis on local reputation, which reflects the lack of anonymity associated with rural places:
Yeah, we have money to loan. And we're going to loan money like we have been. We're going to do it with people that we feel comfortable with that can pay it back that will sign on the note.
One person he feels comfortable with -- Debi Camus. She's a commercial real estate broker who recently borrowed $1 million to refurbish a building in downtown Shreveport. She shopped around for a competitive interest rate and found an existing relationship gave her the best deal.
Debi Camus: I can go walk across the street and sit down in front of Harold face-to-face. So not only was he comfortable with our financial statements, but he's comfortable with us personally.
Camus had two things going for her: her relationship with Turner and her excellent credit rating. Turner says those are the cornerstones of the local banking business and the key to those banks' state of health.
Turner: What we're trying to do is meat and potatoes. It's pretty much basic banking based on principles that have been proven for a long, long time. Where some of the larger banks, their business model requires them to do things that is somewhat nontraditional.
He's talking about those credit swaps and derivative contracts you might have read about. Community banks like his steered away from that swamp of exotic securities. Now, unlike the big banks, they don't need to swallow the Treasury's $250 billion bailout. And, they're still lending at reasonable rates.
Turner is quite serious. Here in Shreveport, competition for customer deposits is intense. It's the same in small towns and cities right across the country.
Turner: The market is not going to allow us to be abusive on interest rates. If you think I'm charging you too much, talk to another bank. They'll loan you the money.
Marsau’s, set in a low-rise red-brick building and unchanged in décor since it opened in 1928, is a story of survival writ small. The wooden shelves are deeply grooved from use. Dogs lounge underfoot in the sun that streams through an open door on a fall afternoon. The grime and grit remain enthusiastically unscrubbed.Johnson reports that the economic forecast for the area is bleak in terms of corn and wheat prices, but promising in terms of renewable energy. That is, 400 construction workers are expected to arrive in 2009 to build wind turbines, bringing with them a temporary spike in sale tax revenues. The accompanying slide show here is well worth a look.
Here's a colorful excerpt:
Sweating already under the unforgiving sun, he strapped pouches with the word “Biblioburro” painted in blue letters to the donkeys’ backs and loaded them with an eclectic cargo of books destined for people living in the small villages beyond.And here's a wonderful paragraph highlighting rural-urban difference:
On a trip this month into the rutted hills, where about 300 people regularly borrow books from him, he reminisced about a visit to the National Library in the capital, Bogotá, where he was stunned by the building’s immense collection and its Art Deco design.
“I felt so ordinary in Bogotá,” Mr. Soriano said. “My place is here.”
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Several issues of the Newton County Times accumulated while I was on vacation, so I'll use this post to get caught up on crime in the county for the past month or so, as reported in the weekly newspaper.
No single big story broke in these three issues, so they feature mostly updates on previously reported crimes. One exception is a story under the headline: “Blue Hole reopened on the
Other headlines and stories include these:
- “Test results could conclude murder probe” is the headline for a story that follows up on the murder of a 77-year-old man in his “getaway” cabin in Ponca in mid-August. The story is rather opaque in a few regards. Unspecified details include the nature of the “tests” noted in the headline, which we are told will inform “the ultimate decision as to whether there need to be charges filed.” Also curious – and consistent with past coverage of the murder – is the fact that the victim’s wife “had been in and out of the cabin for a couple of days before husband’s body was discovered” in an “advanced state of decomposition.”
- "Criminal cases adjudicated” provides updates on some pending cases, mostly involving property crime.Two male defendants, aged 39 and 40, were charged with taking copper wire and selling it to a salvage business.The men also broke some locks in the course of the theft.The two were found guilty of theft of property.Each was sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to pay restitution of $12,000.In a separate incident, a 27-year-old man was found guilty of breaking or entering and theft for entering a barn and taking tools and tool boxes.He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 150 days in a “regional punishment facility.”He will also serve 48 mos. probation and pay $649 in restitution.
- That story also offers a correction regarding a case updated a few weeks ago. The earlier story reported that, for unknown reasons, charges of arson and theft had been dropped against a 51-year-old man. This week’s correction clarifies that the charges were dismissed because the defendant has died.
- In other law-related news, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission announced a new enforcement officer for the county. He happens to be a
native who is returning to the area to take the job, having served the past 8 years as a combat engineer in the Army Reserves. This story, as well as the first one noted above, is a reminder of the significance of state and federal park rangers in the context of sparsely populated counties with few law enforcement resources. Newton County
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Here are some excerpts from Steinhauer's story that struck me as particularly interesting in relation to rural voters, rural culture, and race:
“The concept of nonregulation means don’t mess with business and business will take care of us,” said Mike Jones 63, a geologist in Elko, Nev., who is considering voting for a Democrat for the first time in his life. “But I was looking to retire, and now what do I retire on?”I am also intrigued (and impressed) that Steinhauer reflected on how her personal characteristics -- reflecting her Midwestern roots, her pale skin color, and her gender -- may have played a role in eliciting such candor from people on the street.
Twenty miles away in Lamoille, Nev. [not even a Census Designated Place, according to wikipedia, a "rural hamlet"], Lisa Lafferty, a bartender, summed up her perception of her hometown’s view of Mr. Obama in racial, not partisan, terms. She was among the countless people over the two weeks who spoke easily about their distrust of a black candidate to a reporter with a notebook in her hand.
Read the Daily Yonder's latest post on this topic here.
In case you are wondering, the home tour, which raises funds for the county's single-parent scholarship fund, did not tour the jail! You'll have to read Turner's post to see how she links the two. You may also enjoy her descriptions of some of the wealthy folks who have moved to Newton County in recent years, seeking privacy as part of the rural life there.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The Presley in the headline is Raeanne Presley, 50, Republican mayor of Branson, Missouri, population 6,050. No relation to Elvis, but part of the Presley family who've entertained folks in the Ozarks -- and beyond-- for many years. As Cohen describes it, Branson is "to country-western, country-first, evangelical culture what Haight-Ashbury once was to the hippie movement: its mother lode."
Here's a short excerpt of Cohen's column.
Read the rest here and see how Cohen redeems himself, among hillbillies, for last week mocking Palin's accent -- and by extension the accents (and tastes) of so many others in the heartland.
I never imagined that a Republican mayor from Bible-belt Missouri would revive my faith in American democracy, but Raeanne Presley did just that.
As a high-energy brunette running a small town, she’s been ribbed since Sarah Palin became her party’s nominee for vice president. “Guess you’ll be moving on to governor soon,” she gets told. “And up from there.”But Presley’s not interested. She’s Midwestern practical to Palin’s rabble-rousing frontierswoman. Common sense interests her more than aw-shucks nonsense. She prefers balanced budgets to unbalanced attacks.
Grand Island, with a 2000 population of 42,940, is micropolitan, bordering on metropolitan. It is the county seat and comprises the vast majority of the population of Hall County, with a total population of only 53,534. About 16% of the city's population was Hispanic in 2000, while less than one-half of 1% were Black at that time. (See the 2000 Census data on race here). As the story indicates, most of the Somali workers were recruited in just the past few years, in the wake of a 2006 ICE raid at the Grand Island meatpacking plant, then owned by Swift. For the most part, the Somalis are in the country legally.
But Grand Island is not the only place where these tensions are flaring, and many of the places are rural or non-metro. Mentioned in the New York Times story are Greeley, Colorado (population 76,930) and Shelbyville, Tennessee (population 16,105), among others. Here's an excerpt from Semple's story:
The story discusses recent litigation initiated by Somalis and other Muslims regarding working conditions and provides an overview of the federal laws at stake with regard to religious practices and employment. But the issues described in the story are not only legal ones. They also go to the struggles of a once racially and ethnically homogeneous community to be tolerant in the face of great change and increasing diversity. Here is just one representative quote from a Grand Island resident:
[T]his newest wave of immigrant workers has had the effect of unifying the other ethnic populations against the Somalis and has also diverted some of the longstanding hostility toward Latino immigrants among some native-born residents.
“I kind of admire all the effort they make to follow that religion, but sometimes you have to adapt to the workplace,” said Fidencio Sandoval, a plant worker born in Mexico who has become an American citizen. “A new culture comes in with their demands and says, ‘This is what we want.’ This is kind of new for me.”The Grand Island mayor acknowledged her own struggles to adjust to the Somalis, calling the women's hijabs "startling."
The story closes with a quote from a union official who characterizes the plant as "a real kindling box." His statement suggests the enhanced challenges that unions face in representing such diverse workers as they seek to gain better working conditions for all.
Strange where a road trip can begin: a dorm room, a bar stool or Page 283 of the W.P.A. Guide to California.I like that fact that the "lesser-known nuggets of history" in which the group is said to specialize often occurred in lesser known -- frequently rural --places. I'll refrain from commenting on the group's apparent exclusion of women.
It is on Page 283 that a reader can find the barest mention of The Order of E Clampus Vitus, one of the oldest and oddest entities in a state known for having a few, a Gold Rush-era organization whose goofball sensibilities are offset by a single, serious pursuit: a tendency to plaque all things historical, an obsession that continues to this day.
With little more than mortar and their ever-present red shirts, the Clampers, as the organization’s members are known, have placed more than 1,000 bronze, wood and granite plaques throughout California, from the remote stretches of coast to mining towns like this one, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This is part of the Times' coverage of the role race plays in the Presidential election, which includes Jennifer Steinhauer's story, "Volunteers for Obama Face a Complex Issue." The story's dateline is Elko, Nevada, which is barely non-metropolitan with a population of 45,291. The report implies -- contrary to Kirk Johnson's story which was the topic of my last post -- that those with little exposure to African-Americans (including many rural Nevadans) are more biased against them.
One really fascinating and complex part of the story is this exchange between Elko resident Veronica Mendive and an Obama canvasser.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m prejudiced,” Ms. Mendive said. “I’ve never been around a lot of black people before. I just worry that they’re nice to your face but then when they get around their own people you just have to worry about what they’re going to do to you.”
[The Obama volunteer] responded: “One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” She went on to assure Ms. Mendive that she was so impressed with Mr. Obama the person, that she failed to notice the color of his skin anymore.
Steinhauer notes that this exchange provoked "outrage" among readers when it was posted on the the Times Caucus blog. One reader commented: “Amazing how even white people who support Obama and are canvassing for him default to classic white supremacist language.” As Steinhauer goes on to discuss, however, an admonition of the voter is hardly likely to help the Obama cause . . .
The headline is "Living Apart: Hot Topic is Secondary in Part of Colorado," and the "hot topic" referenced in the headline is race. Here's an excerpt:
Black people are simply not in the picture in this part of Colorado. What that means, said many people in the nearly all-white corridor through Chaffee and Lake Counties along the spine of the Rockies, is that race is not on the table much when talk turns to Senator Barack Obama’s bid for the White House.
“Because there’s not any sort of daily interaction to sway us either way, to make us prejudiced in either direction, it makes it more of a candidate choice,” said Laurie Benson, 36, who owns the Buena Vista Roastery, a coffee supplier on Main Street, with her husband, Joel. “It’s more just who is the best candidate.”
Contrary to rural stereotypes (noted here and here, for example), Johnson's story suggests that rural people are not racist --or at least are not more racist than the rest of the country-- as a consequence of the stasis and homogeneity associated with rural places. Maybe that's because Chaffee County isn't really homogeneous or static. As of the 2000 Census, the county's population was almost 9% Hispanic, though very few were foreign born. Population churn is also evident, as about one-third of residents who lived in Chaffee County in 2000 did not also live there in 1995. Indeed, about 15% of the 2000 population were living in a different state (not only a different Colorado county) just five years earlier. The Census data on that is here.
The story's closing paragraphs circle around to the possibility that race is still an issue in these amenity-rich places, but suggest that if it is, it is a "covert" or "underground" one, "buried deep."
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Farhod, a farmer in this dusty southwestern spit of land pushed up against the Afghan and Uzbek borders, said that he had committed a subversive and potentially punishable act this growing season. He planted watermelons in addition to the usual cotton.
He fears the authorities will destroy his crop, even though they had assured him that he could plant whatever he wanted this year.
The problem, as Stern explains, is that cotton is the proverbial king of Tajik agriculture, and the government pressures farmers to grow it, employing a "complex system of debts and obligations" that is reminiscent of feudalism. The problems created by this government priority are currently aggravated because, following on a summer with little rainfall, Central Asia is likely to face food shortages this winter.
The article does not describe the portfolio for the rural advisor, but here's an excerpt from the story which suggests a close link between the role and Native Alaska issues. (Perhaps a vast majority of Alaska's rural population are natives?) Rhoda McBride, formerly a journalist who covered rural issues, is the person who has just resigned from the position, saying that Palin's administration needs more Native voices. Here's an excerpt from the AP story.
Many Alaska Natives have said they felt neglected when Palin, now the Republican vice presidential nominee, made appointments to her administration, including the rural adviser post.
State Sen. Al Kookesh, a Democrat, said Palin left the position unfilled her first year in office and ignored Native leaders' suggestions on the selection process.
"We were really disappointed when an Alaska Native wasn't appointed," said Kookesh, a Tlingit Indian who held the job in a previous administration.
Natives bristled early in Palin's administration when she named a white woman to a game board seat held by a Native for more than 25 years. An Athabascan Indian eventually was named to the post after protests.
Monday, October 13, 2008
In addition, NPR reporters were back in Iowa visiting with the Griffieons, farmers they are following for a year. Listen to the latest installment here.
On the international front, the New York Times website featured this slide show on Russian agriculture a few weeks ago.
For all your ag law needs and for the latest news on these issues, be sure to visit Agricultural Law.
Meanwhile, I've been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which made it especially upsetting that no vegetables -- not even tomatoes -- were available at my local (California!) farmer's market today.
Dan Barry's story about bootlegging in his "This Land" series in the New York Times today suggests that local awareness of the ravages associated with alcohol use have led many rural Alaska communities to restrict the sale of alcohol.
The story's dateline is Bethel, Alaska, a place that's been noted in this blog before, most recently in Barry's story last week. The headline is "Bootleggers Playing Hide-and-Seek on the Tundra," and in it Barry details the thinking behind the prohibition or tight restriction on alcohol in many rural Alaska communities. In short, they view it as an "accelerant" of crime and social problems. He writes:
And with illicit alcohol come bootleggers who lack any roguish Prohibition-era charm; just one case of their whiskey can upend a small native village.
An outsider might scan an Alaska State Troopers annual report, come across that photograph of Coors Light cases stacked beside bottles of R&R whiskey, and see ingredients for a holiday party. But many people here see it the way others would a few kilos of cocaine, piled in a pyramid for the camera — as seized contraband.
Read the rest here.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
But not forgotten in either campaign are the state's rural roots, and the voters in outlying areas who are usually more fiscally and socially conservative.
In Ken Salazar's swing through these areas last week on behalf of Obama, he affirmed that the Illinois senator wouldn't take away their guns and that he believed in protecting wildlands for hunters and fishers.
Valerie Harris and Guy Hummel, who live outside Pueblo, sat at a diner while Romer and the Salazar brothers, Sen. Salazar and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, gladhanded people eating huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy.
The brother and sister pair run a small cattle ranch and are struggling with the recent financial crisis because they can't get a short-term loan from the local Pueblo bank to buy more cattle.
"We care about water, health care and the economy," said Harris, watching Obama staffers set up a podium near their booth. She and her brother are undecided. "It's hard for us here. . . . We need someone to understand."
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I've recently written a law review article on this topic. It is forthcoming in the Harvard Latino Law Review (2009). Here's the abstract:
In this era of municipal anti-immigrant ordinances and federal-local cooperation to enforce immigration laws, legal issues associated with immigration are playing out at multiple scales, from the national down to the local. Legal actors at the municipal, county, and state levels have become front-line policymakers and law enforcers in relation to immigrant populations. This essay calls attention to phenomenal surge in Latina/o immigration into the rural South in recent years, and it considers how that socio-spatial milieu may influence these legal matters at the local level.
Among other issues, the essay discusses the enhanced opportunity for racial profiling in the context of communities where law enforcement officers are more familiar and socially integrated with the populations they patrol. It also considers how bias may be fueled by the static nature of rural communities, many of which are historically ethnically and racially homogeneous, while others have been socially and racially defined by a Black-White divide. In assessing these legal issues, the essay considers how rural places in the South construct the Latina/o experience differently than "gateway" cities and states in the West and Southwest. In turn, it looks at how the Latina/o in-migration is remaking these rural places, these "quintessentially 'American' spaces."
While the impact of this demographic shift is ongoing, studies suggest that Latina/os are revitalizing the South economically, as they also re-shape the rural socio-cultural milieu. Nevertheless, many of the deep-rooted economic and social problems associated with the region persist, as does distrust between long-time residents and Latina/o newcomers. Just as sociologists, demographers, and economists are studying the phenomenon of immigration into the rural South, this essay argues that it also merits the attention of legal scholars.
Download the full text here.
--> David Brooks' column in the New York Times yesterday is a terrific, spot-on analysis of shifts in the Republican Party in recent decades, shifts that have embraced and revived class warfare. He closes with these comments on the role of Sarah Palin in the phenomenon that has become known as the culture wars:
Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.
She is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.
In short, Brooks – while rightly condemning Palin’s role in the culture wars – perpetuates the phenomenon himself, pitting small-town rubes against the urbane and cosmopolitan. He makes geography a proxy for values and attributes in a way that ultimately is destructive.
I understand that it it difficult to talk about someone or something without labeling it. Nevertheless, having the liberal media embrace such line-drawing, talking down to the rustics in the fly over states as they do so, only amplifies the gap between “us” and “them.”
Didn’t Judith Warner make this point a few weeks ago when she wrote here about attending the Palin rally in suburban DC? Warner concluded that liberals are “dangerously blind” in “feel[ing] contempt for the conservative moral view.” This greatly angers conservatives, she wrote, which fuels their Republican loyalties. Warner also suggested that “liberals need to start working harder at breaking through the empathy barrier.” Was no one listening?
Who started these culture wars anyway? and who first linked the warring factions to the rural-urban axis?
Friday, October 10, 2008
Here's the lede:
Chinese leaders are expected to allow peasants to buy or sell land-use rights for the first time, a step that could draw hundreds of millions of farmers more firmly into the city-centered market economy.
The new policy, which is being discussed this weekend by Communist Party leaders and could be announced within days, would be the biggest economic reform in many years and would mark another significant departure from the system of collective ownership and state control that China built after the 1949 revolution.
Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.But I'm troubled by at least one of Brooks' short-cuts in making his point. In several places, Brooks essentially contrasts "small town values" with "urbane values, sophistication, and the rigorous and constant application of the intellect." He says the "Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts." While bothering to list those three groups suggests that they are not synonymous, it also suggests that the three are similar. It reinforces the idea that people in rural places are not highly educated. Education levels in rural America are, in fact, significantly lower than those in urban places, so I must acknowledge some basis for the stereotype.
She is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.
And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.