Saturday, August 30, 2008

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part II): Violent crime within families and among intimates

I suggested in my first "Law and Order in the Ozarks" post last week that it seems there's more crime in Newton County (AR) than when I was growing up there. While the amazing UC Davis law librarians are tracking down some detailed data on rural and urban crime rates, including those in Arkansas if available, I'll tell you what I already know about them.

In my recent writing about domestic violence and drug use in rural places, I've come across the statement that the difference between rural and urban crime rates has narrowed in recent years. (Weisheit, Wells & Falcone, Crime and Policing in Rural and Small Town America (3d ed. 2006)). This suggests that urban crime rates, historically higher, have fallen some and that rural crime rates, historically lower, have risen some. Further, Weisheit et al tell us that violent offenses against family members are one type of crimes with rising rural arrest rates.

Even in light of this trend, what has happened in Newton County (AR) recently is surely an aberration. I am now looking at the August 14 and August 21 issues of the paper, and family violence is everywhere, along with some other crimes.

On August 14, three of the stories follow up on crimes previously reported, two in the previous week's edition. We learn more about the 33-year-old woman who shot her husband. She told the Sheriff's investigator that on the day of the shooting, "she and her husband had been arguing most of the day and drinking at a neighbor's house." She reports that he provoked her to pick up the shot gun from behind the sofa and told her to "go ahead and pull the trigger." She did, though she says she didn't know it was loaded. Once she realized she'd shot her husband, the police report says she "yelled to the kids to call for help" but it was too late. (While it would apparently have made no difference in these circumstances, this does remind me that there is no 911 service in Newton County, which is not uncommon in very remote rural areas in the U.S.). I am mortified that there was a loaded gun behind the sofa with two "kids" in the house. The August 21 paper reports that the woman has been arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder.

The other two crime stories on the 14 August front page are
  • Wife joins husband on child abuse charges -- following up on a story from a few weeks ago, which reported that a 25-year-old man had been charged with first degree battery and misdemeanor third degree battery for striking his three stepchildren, aged 10, 8 and 5. Now the mother has been charged with felony permitting abuse of a minor.
  • Man pleads guilty to burglary, animal cruelty -- following up on last week's report. While the 41-year-old man has pleaded guilty to the charges, the story makes no mention of the 15-year-old who was also arrested, except to say that the adult male was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Although the man is a habitual offender, the sentencing enhancement based on that status is not being pursued in exchange for the plea.
The rest of the front page is, thankfully, lighter fare. Two photos depict events at the Jasper School, in the county seat. One shows the beginning of construction on a $2.4 million auditorium, music, and physical education facility, and another shows a 4th grade teacher preparing his classroom for the new school year. The final items announce a write-in candidate for county judge a "FireWise" event at the Ponca fire station.

The August 21 issue shows a photo of the winning fair parade float and tells of the 3d Dist. U.S. Congressman's "mobile office" visiting the county seat. (This district has been held by a Republican for decades, while Arkansas' remaining three districts tend to go Democratic). The rest of the front page is all law and order. In addition to the notice of a new state trooper being assigned to the county, there are three crime-related stories.
  • One reports on a March 2008 domestic violence incident in which a man shot his girlfriend in the fact, stabbed her around the throat, stabbed the neighbors with whom she had taken refuge, and then set fire to his trailer. The man is expected to enter into a plea agreement. I first reportedthis matter back in March.
  • One clarifies that a pastor, who two weeks earlier was reported to have been charged with rape, has instead been charged with incest because the 17-year-old with who he had sex is his adopted daughter.
  • The last indicates that a federal subpeona has been served on the former director of the County's Office of Emergency Management. That former director has been called to testify before a federal grand jury. The story suggests that federal investigators who were in the county earlier this summer found some indications of misuse of federal Office of Homeland Security grant funds. Time will tell what's up with this subpeona, but reading this reminded me of the federal indictment of the county judge for vote buying a coupla' decades ago. He was convicted and served time in prison.
With so much of this news about violence within families in Newton County, I'll share these relevant statistics:
  • The less densely populated a place and the greater its distance from an urban area, the more likely a killer is to be a family member or intimate partner of his (or her) victim. Adria Gallup-Black, Rural and Urban Trends in Family and Intimate Partner Homicide: 1980-1999 (2004).
  • Rural perpetrators of intimate abuse are nearly twice as likely as their urban counterparts to inflict severe physical injuries, as by using a weapon. They are twice as likely to destroy property during the event. T.K. Logan, et al., Qualitative Differences Among Rural and Urban Intimate Violence Victimization Experiences and Consequences: A Pilot Study, 18 J. of Fam. Violence 83, 86 (2003).
  • Finally, at least one study suggests that state troopers are more likely to take crimes of famiy violence seriously and to pursue them fully than are local law enforcement, such as sheriff and deputies, who are more socially embedded in the community. Neil Websdale, Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System (1998).

A few rural audio vignettes from NPR this week

Here's one about the 1963 founding of the folk music festival in Mountain View, Arkansas. The headline was "In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try to Preserve Local Tunes." Don't miss the priceless slideshow, with photos by David Gilkey for NPR. Sounds like the NPR reporters stumbled onto Mountain View as part of the network's "Take Me to Your Leader" series, in which Madeleine Brand and David Greene are driving between Barak Obama's home in Chicago and the Democratic Convention in Denver, asking townsfolk to identify local leaders. The report does a nice job of capturing the distinctive flavor of this Ozark gem. Mountain View is the county seat of Stone County and has a population of about 2,800.

Here's one about Leavenworth, Washington, a fake "Bavarian Village." Unfortunately, the transcript for this one is not available online, and I won't trust my memory to recall too much of what I heard --just that the town converted itself to a Bavarian-style village to create a new economy based on tourism after the town lost its train station and several major employers.

I bet you can tell which one the photo accompanies.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin, the rural choice?

With today's announcement, Gov. Palin may be the first vice presidential candidate with such an intimate and far-reaching knowledge of concerns unique to rural communities. Alaska is, of course, the largest state in the country in terms of land area, and much of it is sparsely populated. When running for Alaska governor two years ago, Palin put out this position paper on rural issues. In it she addresses rural energy costs, endorses hiring local residents to serve rural communities, and discusses her positions on local control, subsistence fishing and hunting, and indigenous communities.

Whether her connection to rural issues is more help than hindrance is an open question; already Democrats are using it to underscore her lack of experience. For example, Paul Begala noted this morning that Palin's two years as governor of a state with "more reindeer than people" is evidence that McCain was "out of his mind" to pick her. CNN's Jack Cafferty joined the bandwagon too, describing Alaska as "a state that has 13 people and some caribou."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Update on the ICE raid in Laurel, Mississippi

See this from the Daily Yonder, relying on a Washington Post story.

I note that those detained -- as many as 600 of them -- are being held in Jena, Louisiana, population 2,971. I hope they have access to legal counsel with appropriate expertise in both immigration law and criminal law, which was apparently not the case with the Postville detainees. Also, the Postville detainees were arraigned in the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo; I wonder if such a make-shift courtroom will be used for those detained in Laurel. Since this raid comes several months after Postville, immigrants-rights groups are almost certainly better prepared to go to the place and advocate in all appropriate ways for those detained, even if the local rural resources are not comprehensive.

Census Data on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage for 2007

Data and reports from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2007 are trickling out, and on August 26, the figures for income, poverty, and health insurance coverage were released. Here's the press release link.

I had a quick look at the full report, and here are some highlights -- or perhaps I should say lowlights.
  • The real median income in non-metro areas rose by 3.1% to $40,615 between 2006 and 2007. This income level continued to be lower than households inside metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which was $51,831, a level not statistically significant from 2006. This means the income gap between metro and non-metro places is narrowing. I wonder if this is a reflection of exurbanization, of well-to-do city folks flocking to amenity-rich rural places.
  • Within MSAs, households in principal cities (urban areas) the median income was $44,205, while it was $57,444 "outside principal cities" -- meaning the suburbs.
  • Neither the metro nor the non-metro poverty rate changed by a statistically significant degree, although both rates rose slightly. The metro rate rose from 11.8% to 11.9%, and the non-metro rate rose from 15.2% to 15.4%.
  • The uninsured rate for people living in metropolitan statistical areas decreased to 15.3% from 15.8%. The rate for people living outside MSAs decreased from 16% to 15% between 2006 and 2007.
  • Here's a story from the NYT, which focuses on the health care coverage part of this particular Census Bureau Report.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More on wind farms

Here's the latest from the New York Times about power grid limitations that are thwarting efforts to maximize the use of wind-generated energy, mostly in rural places. The story is by Matthew Wald Here's an excerpt:
The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Reading the details of the deficient energy transportation infrastructure made it sound at first blush like another example of long-standing neglect of rural infrastructure, but I guess it isn't quite as simple as that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another ICE Raid in Non-Metro America

The raid today was in Laurel, Mississippi, population 18,393, and its target was a Howard Industries plant. Here's Adam Nossiter's report in the New York Times, which says 350 unauthorized migrants were working there. According to the 2000 Census, almost 4% of Laurel's population was Hispanic.

The story notes parallels between this raid and the one in May in Postville, Iowa, which I've commented on here and here.
The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration’s enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.
We don't know, yet, of course, how those detained in this Mississippi raid will be "processed" by federal judges, although an ICE spokesperson said the workers would be taken to a detention center to “await the outcome of their cases.” No lawyers were present as the detainees were interrogated, finger-printed, and "processed for removal from the U.S."

The ICE spokesperson also said that 50 of the detainees would not be taken to the center but rather would be “released into the community.” Such releases are apparently based on so-called humanitarian reasons such as the need to take care of children.

For more information on Latina/os in the non-metropolitan South, here's a link to my working paper, "Latina/os, Locality and Law in the Rural South," which is forthcoming in the Harvard Latino Law Review (2009).

"Going Down the Road," this time from coastal Louisiana

The latest installment of the NYT series "Going down the road" appears today with the dateline Golden Meadow, Louisiana. That's in Cajun country, and according to Susan Saulny' s story, there's less of it -- the place, the land that is -- than there used to be. The headline is "Holding Out, to Last Tiny Isle, as Cajun Land Sinks into the Gulf," and the story tells of both extraordinary attachment to place (as in Grand Isle, population1,541) and a community that wasn't even around when the W.P.A. writers came through in the 1930s (Port Fourchon, not incorporated and not a census designated place, which is described in Saulny's story as part gated yacht community, part base for the oil and gas industry). The story's interactive feature is here.

Here is an excerpt:

The route enjoys a history of beguiling newcomers with its curious swamp-life customs, pirate tales and exuberant seafood offerings, which were already well-documented in 1941 when writers for the government’s Work Projects Administration set out to create travel guides for all the states.

* * *

Here, about an hour south of New Orleans, the writers followed Bayou Lafourche (pronounced la-FOOSH) to the gulf along a “graveled and shell roadbed” that is now Louisiana Highway 1, fully paved. They gushed about “boom fishing centers,” newly discovered oil and the seemingly endless bounty of the Gulf of Mexico, the area’s economic lifeblood, in Golden Meadow (population, 2,500; altitude, two feet).

“This part of the state is a lush land of great fecundity,” an unnamed writer enthused.

Saulny's story goes on to detail how Port Fourchon, the "Bayou's boom town," is flourishing, in large part because some 20% of the nation's fuel passes through it. Elsewhere in the area, long-time residents are resilient and loyal to their home in spite of the tough times and the sinking terrain. As one resident of Grand Isle expressed it, “If they got a little puddle of sand left . . . I’m staying put.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Feature: Law and Order in the Ozarks

I don't really love that heading, but here's my idea for a new series on Legal Ruralism. I'm a long-time subscriber to The Newton County Times, the weekly newspaper for the county where I grew up in Arkansas. It's typically just 8 pages a week, sometimes more during fair season. There aren't a lot of ads (well, more during election season), and it's chock full of information about county happenings, including obituaries. I'll tell you more about the paper, of course, as this series develops.

Since I started writing about the intersection of law with rural livelihoods, I pay a lot more attention to the items about crime, policing, and such, and so I've decided to feature some story from the paper each week. I can't guarantee it'll always be directly related to law, but the idea is to use the paper's coverage of events there as a jumping off point to discuss my thoughts about, well, law and order in rural places. Unfortunately, very few stories in the paper get picked up on its website, and I've never seen a Newton County photo there. This is especially unfortunate for my purposes because there are some incredible photos I'd like to share with you here. (Photo above is of the Buffalo National River (BNR), which winds through the county; I posted it just for visual interest and to convey how scenic the county is; I won't go into the links between the BNR and law in this post).

Just a reminder of some basics about Newton County before we get started. It is, I believe, the least densely populated county in Arkansas, with about 10 persons/square mile. The total population in 2000 was 8,608, and the county seat, Jasper, has a population of 498. Newton County is one of two persistently poor counties in Northwest Arkansas, the other being Searcy County to the east. This means that more than 20% of the residents have been living below the poverty line in every decennial census since records were first kept in 1960. (There are other persistently poor counties in the state, but they are in the Mississippi Delta). Newton County has no industry. Sixty percent of the county is Ozark National Forest and BNR, so the county has a fair number of government employees. Otherwise, tourism, timber, and education (the county has four schools but, following consolidation, only two school districts) are the big employers. There are a lot of family farms, but few row crops -- mostly cattle and pigs.

So, now I'm looking at the August 7, 2008 edition of the Newton County Times, and four of the six stories on the front page have a legal angle. This seems extraordinary to me because my recollection of my childhood is that the law was largely irrelevant to the lives of most of the county's residents. That may still be the case, but here are the four headlines:
  • Sales taxes asked for new jail -- I have blogged about this issue before; the 100+-year-old-jail has effectively been condemned, and two inmates committed suicide there in the late spring. This caused it to be closed for a while, with inmates taken to neighboring Carroll County. The latest is that Newton County's November ballot will seek a .5% sales and use tax to finance construction of a new jail and law enforcement complex, as well as a second .5% tax to pay for the maintenance and operation of that facility. I hope they pass -- the county needs this facility, and very little in federal grants is available to meet even such needs.
  • Laverty earns praise of state prosecutors -- Laverty is the state senator for a district that includes Newton County and some some parts of neighboring counties. The story reports that he has just received the "Advocate for Justice" award from the Arkansas Prosecutors Association. Specifically, he is being praised for helping the county get money for a drug court and for an extra deputy prosecutor, as well as for his support of the association's 2007 legislative program. It isn't clear from the report whether the drug court is in Newton County or in nearby Carroll County, which is more populous (25,357). Wherever it is in the area, I'm pleased to hear about it. Such courts are an aspect of a mature criminal justice system.
  • Murder suspect hospitalized -- this story reports that a woman who is accused of shooting her husband in the chest with a shotgun on Sunday night had to be hospitalized the next day after she passed out in the Newton County Jail (yep, the infamous one that was closed down in June after the inmate suicides). This is going to be an interesting story to follow -- a wife shooting her husband, both in their 30s. I'll hold my tongue about who the initial aggressor was until we know more, but bear in mind that I'm just finishing an article on domestic violence in rural places, and I've been thinking and writing about the particular character of rural patriarchy for about 18 months so . . . well, stay tuned.
  • Police say dogs "tortured"--this is, I think, the saddest of all because it involves a juvenile. It reports that a 41-year-old man made a court appearance in late July for burglary and animal abuse. The man's accomplice was a 15-year-old, and a video tape showed him "severely abusing several small animals." More details of this abuse are given in the news report, but I'll spare you. The bond for the 41-year-old has been set at $25,000. The youth was "set to be in juvenile court in Harrison." Harrison is the micropolitan center in neighboring Boone County. This is not specified in the story, but I suspect that under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1980, the youth could only be held in Newton County's jail, an adult facility, for six hours, although 2-day extensions may be granted to rural facilities under "special circumstances."
Of the final two items on the front page, one is about repairs to two state highways that run through the county and the other is a photo taken by a Newton County resident. The caption is "Back yard drama," and the photo shows a Kingsnake eating a Copperhead. Now you know why I'm regretting that these photos aren't available online for me to share with you! This is quite a shot.

I'm looking forward to hearing your alternative suggestions for a heading for this series.

More on wind and politics (which does not necessarily mean windy politicians)

A story by Kirk Johnson and Monica Davey on the national page of the New York Times today is headlined, "Energy Politics Proves Difficult to Master" in the online edition. The headline in the print edition is "Voters to Congressional Candidates: 'Energy is the No. 1 Issue.'" The story focuses on two congressional races, one in the 4th District of Colorado and the other in the 6th District of Minnesota. The former includes the flat and rural areas east of Denver, as well as Fort Collins, Greeley and various exurbs.

Here are some excerpts that touch on the story's rural angle:

Here in Colorado, where Democrats gather next week for their convention, candidates have sparred relentlessly over energy. By most accounts, it is the No. 1 issue in the Fourth Congressional District, a mostly rural area that sprawls across Colorado’s boundary with the Great Plains.

In the small towns and wind-swept farms of the Fourth District, it is easy to find people like Rod Diekman. Mr. Diekman is outraged about the particulars of the energy crunch, including the prices for fuel and fertilizer that are battering his 3,500-acre wheat and millet farm just north of Cheyenne Wells, and the lack of electricity-transmission capacity that is blocking construction of a wind-turbine plant on his property.

The story also details the various politicians' positions on renewable energy and some rural residents' skepticism that wind farms and the infrastructure to transport the energy it will generate can be realized in time to rescue their communities.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another big "rural" headline in today's NYT, this one about the Presidential election

The headline today is "A Rural Slice of a Big State Tests Obama," and the big state at issue is Pennsylvania. The story's dateline is Raccoon Township, a backwoods, down home name if ever there was one. Beaver County, Pennsylvania has a population 181,412).

Here is an excerpt from Michael Powell's story:

To roam the rural reaches of western Pennsylvania, through largely white working-class counties, is to understand the breadth of the challenge facing the two presidential candidates. But this economically ravaged region, once so solidly Democratic, poses a particular hurdle for Senator Obama.

From the desolation of Aliquippa — where the Jones & Laughlin steel mill loomed at the foot of the main boulevard — to the fading beauty of Beaver Falls to the neatly tended homes of retired steel workers in Hopewell, one hears much hesitating talk about Mr. Obama, some simply quizzical or skeptically political, and some not-so-subtly racial.

The story features lots of rich quotes from residents and is well worth a read in its entirety. Interestingly, although it was on the front page of the national edition of the paper, by mid-afternoon today, it was nowhere in sight online. I didn't see it make the top-10 emailed stories all day, but it did draw more than 150 comments from readers, some of them colorful indeed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In and near amenity-rich rural places, "a constant sort of sprawl"

I noted earlier today the advertised NPR program about rural gentrification -- at least I thought that was going to be the topic. Turned out, the Morning Edition program today was about Flagstaff, Arizona, population 52,894 in 2000, and almost certainly higher today based on what the report told us. That makes Flagstaff and Coconino County, with a total population of 127,500, metropolitan, though not by much. (Top photo of Flagstaff by Cindy Carpien of NPR).

Flagstaff, the story reported, is one of those amenity-rich destinations where housing and other costs have sky-rocketed in recent years, in part because newcomers from places like California move in. Because those ex-Californians can afford more based on what they got from the sale of their CA residences, they drive up housing prices in heretofore overlooked destinations, like Flagstaff (a/k/a "Flag" to several of the locals interviewed). Here's an excerpt from the story that gives a sense of what is going on in Flagstaff:

All over the country, newcomers are moving to scenic communities like Flagstaff, helping to drive up housing costs. Many of the towns are trying desperately to create more affordable housing. For instance, Aspen, Colo., now requires developers to make 60 percent of new homes affordable to lower-income buyers.

But these efforts simply can't keep up with the demand. And it's not just day care workers, teachers and firefighters who are squeezed out of the housing market in Flagstaff — medical professionals and college professors can't afford it, either.

Turns out, the more rural angle in the story relates to Winslow, Arizona, 60 miles away, which has become something of a bedroom community for Flagstaff. Folks who can no longer afford to live in Flagstaff often choose to live in Winslow, population 9,520. In the words of the NPR report, its status and growth are now linked to the overflow from Flagstaff, particularly long-time Flagstaff residents who are now priced out of that market. Here's another excerpt:

Aaron Fullerton drives 60 miles twice a day through the empty desert between Flagstaff and Winslow. Fullerton grew up in Flagstaff; he still works there. But when it came time to buy his first home, he bought in Winslow, for $150,000.

For that in Flagstaff, Fullerton said, "you'd be lucky to get an apartment that's been remodeled and called a townhome."

His new 2,000 square-foot home is on a barren, windswept seven acres just south of Winslow.

"You know, it's not Flag," Fullerton said. "But I'm happy with what I've bought. But who knows if I'll ever be able to move anywhere near Flag."

* * *
Indeed, the very fastest-growing rural areas are now the affordable outskirts of super-trendy amenity towns like Jackson Hole, Wyo., or Park City, Utah — places like Aaron Fullerton's new home, Winslow. Just 10 years ago, Winslow was run-down and losing population.
Photo bottom right is of the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, which was recently renovated by a couple from California, Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion. Affeldt has since become Winslow's mayor.

The story goes on to quote demographer Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire, "So there is a constant sort of sprawl if you will, going on in many of these areas." Reminds me of what I wrote a few days ago in relation to the anticipated population growth in the U.S. over the next several decades: non-metropolitan places -- not just cities --need to be planning for such growth.

Coincidentally, this NPR story ran on the very day I was re-reading Sonya Salamon's, From Hometown to Nontown: Rural Community Effects of Suburbanization, Rural Sociology 68 (1) 2003, pp 1-24. This article features just a little slice of the issues taken up in her 2003 book, Newcomers to Old Towns: Suburbanization of the Heartland. Salamon's writing takes up the clash of cultures that often result, well, as the title says, when newcomers arrive in old towns. The former tend to be more affluent and consumption-oriented than the more egalitarian long-time residents, whose families have often been resident for several generations and who rely on their family reputations as a sort of social capital. Such newcomers are also less likely than the old-timers to invest in community and civic institutions, and they are less likely to see children and youth as a community resource for whom all share a certain responsibility. Salamon's work was sited in the Midwest, but reading about what is happening in northern Arizona made me wonder about the extent of such conflicts of culture in these amenity-rich rural places.

And that brings me to a talk I heard at the Rural Sociological Society last month. Peter B. Nelson of Middlebury College and John Cromartie of the USDA Economic Research Service are studying population churn in amenity-rich counties. Their focus is nonmetropolitan counties with high population turnover, but little net gain or loss. Most of the counties they identified as experiencing this phenomenon were in the West, with a few in Kansas and a few in Arkansas, as I recall. Virtually all were west of the Mississippi River. They found that the character of the places changed as a consequence of the population churn, even absent significant net gain or loss in population. They also found that the demographic change did not necessarily mean the "graying" of non-metro places. Significant numbers of newcomers are under the age of 55. The findings of Nelson and Cromartie may be relevant to Winslow's future, depending on its growth or stability, in the wake of happenings in neighboring Coconino County.

As it stands now, Winslow is expected to grow. Indeed, it's size may double by 2020, according to the NPR story. Meanwhile, residents of Winslow seem less resistant to change than their neighbors in Flagstaff. Here's a final excerpt about how Mayor Affeldt and his wife are "helping transform Winslow into the place they want to live."

"We put down roots here," Affeldt said.

"I think most Americans are kind of groundless because we move all the time, we're not attached to a place, and there's something really compelling about this particular place. And it's become our home."

Heads up: Rural Gentrification on NPR this morning

A teaser ad on National Public Radio yesterday afternoon indicated that Morning Edition will be broadcasting a feature about rural gentrification this morning. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wind farms apparently have downsides, too, especially in upstate New York

Several of my recent posts have sung the praises of wind farms, focusing on their benefits for rural communities in particular. Now, today's New York Times features an exhaustive report on the downsides of these whirring towers, at least as they are playing in upstate New York, the so-called "North Country." The headline is "In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption," and in it, Nicholas Confessore tells of a "modern-day gold rush" -- but in an industry that has not sought to site the turbines in affluent places downstate, like Long Island. One aspect of the story are feuds that have arisen among neighbors and families in this area near the Canadian border where the lease options are very valuable in the context of low incomes.

Confessore also tells of an investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into allegations that companies have "colluded to divide up territory and void bidding against each other for the same land."

Here is an excerpt that paints a vivid portrait of the socio-economic situation in the North Country, including rural restructuring:

The industry’s interest in New York’s North Country is driven by several factors. The area is mostly rural, with thousands of acres of farmland near existing energy transmission lines. Moreover, under a program begun in 2004, the state is entering into contracts to buy renewable energy credits, effectively subsidizing wind power until it can compete against power produced more cheaply from coal or natural gas.

Confessore quotes one local official who explains that some landowners are using funds generated by the leases to hold on to family land.

The print edition story is accompanied by various photos by Christine Muschi for the New York Times. I especially like the one that juxtaposes the clothesline, a quintessentially rural image, against the ultra-contemporary wind turbines. The caption for this photo on the story's multi-media feature is a long one that notes several additional problems some see with the wind turbines, including noise and the vertigo experienced by some who live near them and see their shadows.

Who'd have thought wind turbines would become the latest, "not in my backyard" phenomenon?

"Introducing one segment of America to another"

That is part of the caption for Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph, which is featured in a New York Times story this morning about a documentary that will air on PBS tonight. The documentary is called, “Documenting the Face of America: Roy Stryker and the F.S.A./O.W.I. Photographers.” Here's the story's lede:
“Migrant Mother,” Dorothea Lange’s image of a weathered, grimy Depression-era woman in California surrounded by her children, is one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century, as is “Fleeing a Dust Storm,” Arthur Rothstein’s shot of a farmer and his two young sons in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl whipped by the wind, a shack in the background.
Of course, looking at these photos (the link to the story's multimedia feature is here), and recalling that era would always be good for a blog post about matters rural, but I was really moved to post because of that caption on Lange's photo, saying it "introduced one segment of America to another." Sometimes I think we need to make a re-introduction of metropolitan America to its country cousin. A lot of "information" about rural America is out there for urbanites to consume, as in vehicles of popular culture, but too often it is partial, even wrong. A proper re-introduction might be in order, for example, to achieve better policy solutions to enduring social problems that plague both rural and urban communities. But how might such a re-introduction be properly and meaningfully achieved?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Montana secures use of "the last best thing" for all

Read the story here about the Congressional committee action that prevented issuance of a trademark on this phrase, long associated with Montana and used by its residents. Here's an excerpt from the NYTimes story by Jim Robbins, who explains that the issue arose after a Las Vegas businessman, David Lipson, built a luxury ranch in Montana and sought a trademark permitting exclusive use of the phrase for his businesses and products:

The move caused an uproar among Montanans, and tapped into deep feelings about the trend of wealthy out-of-staters buying up property.

* * *

“The Last Best Place” struck a chord in Montana, the fourth-largest state in size but with fewer than a million people and millions of acres of wilderness.

Businesses throughout the state — from real estate brokers to motels — began freely using the phrase, and the State of Montana used it in a campaign, all without registering the phrase with the trademark office.

William Kittredge, who came up with the phrase for the title of an anthology of Montana writers that he edited, is quoted as saying he is delighted with the Congressional action because he viewed the the phrase "as a gift to the people of Montana.” He explained, “Montana wasn’t doing well economically at that time, and we’re out in the sticks, and it was a way to help Montanans feel connected to the greater world.”

Who, except the Las Vegas businessman who lost his quest for the trademark, doesn't love this outcome? Pulling for Montana in this one feels like rootin' for the underdog.

Alfalfa Festival Antics

Although Lancaster is no longer a rural place, it is home to the Rural Olympics, the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival's signature event. On a hot afternoon in August--this year, August 30--ranchers compete in a variety of events, from hay loading to tractor driving, Model "T" racing to old fashioned tug-o-war. The Rural Olympics have a long history in the Antelope Valley, as the fair website describes:
Midway through the depression, Antelope Valley ranchers and truck drivers, headed by Donald Jaqua Sr., assembled in the Antelope Valley High School sports field and challenged each other to hay loading contests and truck and tractor driving skills. Whether these challengers and organizers knew an Antelope Valley tradition was born or not is a matter of conjecture. But what is officially the Rural Olympics today is the direct result of these Alfalfa Festival antics.
For some fifteen years I attended the annual Olympics, missing the last two years only because the event conflicted with law school. Throughout my teenage years, I volunteered to help with grandstand seating--although, to be honest, I didn't truly appreciate the Rural Olympic events at that time. While I thought the Rural Olympics were "pretty cool" then, I really couldn't wait for my shift to end so that I could meet up with my friends, purchase giant clouds of cotton candy, walk around the carnival area, and talk to boys. Fair time was the most magnificent ten days of the year--ten days when I was allowed to stay out well past curfew.

In my twenties, the fairgrounds relocated. The old wooden buildings were torn down and shiny, new "barns" were put up at the new location. The Emblem Club Taco Booth now serves their famous tacos (at least by Antelope Valley standards) from a great big trailer, rather than an old greasy shack. For the most part, the fair just isn't the same. It has become more commercialized, more glossy and modern. Even the cotton candy seems not-quite-right, now pre-bagged instead of fresh and warm from the spinner.

But the Rural Olympics remain a highlight of fair time and, particularly with the relocation of the fair, I came to fully appreciate the down-home charm that the Olympics have to offer. Despite the increasing suburbanization of the Antelope Valley, the Rural Olympics remain a notable effort to highlight a time in Antelope Valley history--a time when Alfalfa was King. The Eastside vs. Westside Tug-o-War competition is still fierce, the Antique Car Dash still requires loading onions by hand, and the ranchers return each year to defend their local records in tractor backing and gravel transfer.

One of my favorite events, the Hay Stealing Contest, consists of six two-man teams. When the flag drops, each team is required to back their vehicle up to a stack of hay, quickly load 24 bales onto the bed of the truck, and drive to the finish line.

Another favorite event, the Antique Car Potato Race, requires an antique car passenger to lean out the window, stab potatoes with a spear, and move the potatoes into the cab of the vehicle, all while the driver speeds through the course. The fastest car--with five stabbed potatoes in the cab at the finish line--wins a $400 prize.

The Toughest Farmhand award goes to the contestant that can most quickly and efficiently complete a series of tasks, including stacking hay bales, connecting irrigation pipe, carrying large buckets of water, and transporting a 50 pound sack of onions.

According to the fair website:
Even people who have a difficult time fathoming the meaning of rural get just as excited as those who haven't missed a Rural Olympics since its infancy. There's no single place, except at the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, where these events can be seen and experienced.
One good thing about the new fair location--it made room for a Rural Olympics Hall of Fame, established in 2005 with Donald Jaqua, Sr. as the first inductee. Sometimes change is for the better. Sometimes. Now if only they would bring back that freshly spun cotton candy.

(Photos from Liz Breault, Antelope Valley Fair Photographer)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rural meets urban in Anchorage

Three bears have attacked people in Anchorage this summer, according to this AP story. Here's the lede:
Even in a city whose official slogan is “Big Wild Life,” the summer of 2008 is testing residents’ tolerance for large carnivores.

The problem is bears, black bears and bigger grizzlies. So far this summer, three people have been mauled in the city.

* * *
Anchorage residents share the municipality, which covers more than a million acres and includes some 360,000 people, with more than 300 black bears and 50 to 60 grizzlies. Aggravating the problem is that Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, is nestled against the half-million-acre Chugach State Park.

“Chugach State Park is a bear factory,” said Rick Sinnott, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It pumps out bears every year.”

What's the solution? The state tried issuing hunting licenses for grizzlies last year, but none were killed. Of course, those injured cannot sue the bears, and there would be immunity issues if they wanted to sue the state for its policies. But reading the story made me think the residents assume this risk by living in Anchorage (as elsewhere in Alaska, no doubt) -- just as those living on Lake Tahoe or camping in Yosemite or Yellowstone do. I guess that's just a little harder to swallow because in spite of its proximity to wildlife, Anchorage is nevertheless a city, where commercial and other urban activities are pursued. Many of those activities are surely inconsistent with always being--literally--"loaded for bear."

Blogging in the boonies

A few different events and news items have prompted me to think recently about the power and potential of blogging in relation to rural livelihoods. The most recent was this story in the NYT a few days ago, "Woman to Woman, Online." The gist of the story is that women love to read blogs by and about women and their lives (mommy blogs seem especially popular), and the success of some women's blogs has permitted them to quit their "day jobs" and live off the advertising revenue generated by their online popularity.

One of the blogs featured in the story was, so I had a look. This blog is written by a woman named Ree, who describes herself as "a thirty-something ranch wife, mother of four, moderately-agoraphobic middle child who grew up on a golf course in the city." She wound up on a ranch in Oklahoma after meeting her husband, "Marlboro Man," and falling in love. The subhead for her blog is "Plowing Through Life in the Country . . . One Calf Nut at a Time." Photo above right is of Ree and her four youngins'. She describes her blog like this:
I hope you enjoy my website, Here, I write about my decade-long transition from spoiled city girl to domestic country wife. I post photos of cows, horses, and my four weird children, and frequently include shots of cowboys wearing chaps.
The NYTimes says JCPenney advertises with her, and in my two visits to her blog I've also seen "Got Milk" and other dairy association ads, too. Hewlett Packard sponsors her photo pages. I actually have not yet managed to find a mention of exactly where in Oklahoma Ree, her family, and the ranch are, but The Pioneer Woman is certainly playing the rural card.

So does Rechelle, a/k/a The Country Doctor's Wife, whom I found through a link on Pioneer Woman. Turns out, JCPenney is supporting Rechelle's blogging habit, too. And so are some merchants who must be local to Rechelle, like McPeak & Pugh Real Estate in Wamego, Kansas (population 4,246). They must figure that Rechelle is making rural Kansas look so appealing that others will surely want to move there.

All of this is interesting to me for several reasons, including the gender angle (of course!). The dearth of good jobs in rural America-- especially for women -- is well-documented. (See, e.g., the work of Diane McLaughlin at Penn State; Ann Tickamyer at Ohio University; Anastasia Snyder at Ohio State). Bear in mind that rural women are paid about $.55 to the male $1, which creates a considerably worse comparable wage problem than we have nationwide, where women earn a whopping $.77 to the male $1. So, to Ree and Rechelle I say, "you go girls!" (It also has me wondering when the advertisers will discover me . . . )

Rural blogging isn't just a woman thing, of course. A few months ago, I was contacted by Ian Walthew, an Englishman farming in France, who collects and publicizes Farm Blogs from around the World. (He's also written a book on rural gentrification, set in his native Britain, but I'll get to that in another post -- some day). Bottom line: lots of farmers are blogging -- not just their wives. Indeed, some of the farmers are women!

And thinking about farm blogs, in turn, reminded me of some of the panels at this year's Rural Sociological Society Annual Meeting. Talks covered topics such as using the internet to build social capital, which rural residents use email and for what purposes, and the significance of broadband access to rural development. (Search the Annual Meeting Program here). One of my pet interests is the extent to which the World Wide Web is shaping the rural socio-cultural milieu. Like the availability of television a generation earlier, does Internet access to an endless number of content providers have a homogenizing effect on culture? And what difference does it make that the Internet, unlike television, facilitates two-way communication, not just between bloggers and readers, but also by email and in chat rooms?

I wonder if access to the World Wide Web means that -- contrary to what Ree and Rechelle are selling -- rural culture isn't distinctive, or will not remain so. Will this technology infrastructure ultimately render aspects of rural sociology obsolete, or at least relegate them to the history books? Or does the vast number of content providers -- the very eclectic range, including Ree and Rechelle, who are earning a living and a measure of stardom from blogging -- mean greater opportunity for individuality (even eccentricity) for all?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another story about the rural vote, albeit somewhat in disguise as such

The New York Times comments in a story in Saturday's paper on Obama's failure to set up a campaign office in Arkansas. The headline, "Obama's Southern Strategy Omits Arkansas, So Far," hints that the story is mostly about the Clintons' links to the state, but a closer read reveals an analysis of the Arkansas electorate that makes them seem less open to Obama, in part because of -- guess what -- the rural (a/k/a white, a/k/a uneducated) factor. . .

Here's an excerpt from Shaila Dawan's story:
Obama campaign officials have made much of their desire to expand the traditional Democratic playing field into states like Idaho, Indiana, Missouri and Montana and have promised they will run a 50-state campaign. But in the red-bloc South, the campaign has begun a push only in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. It has offices in several Republican-leaning states that have three electoral votes to Arkansas’s six, leaving his supporters in this state to wonder, why not here?
Daiwan offers this explanation:

In Arkansas, unlike other Southern states, Democrats have maintained dominance by keeping white, conservative, rural voters — the ones that need the most convincing by Mr. Obama — in the fold. Arkansas’s population is whiter than the rest of the South; it is only 16 percent black, compared with 30 percent in Georgia and 21 percent in North Carolina. Its voters are older and less educated and include fewer transplants from outside the South.

She notes, too, that Arkansas has never elected a black to state-wide office.

Several political experts said this decision by the Obama campaign was predictable because Arkansas is expected to be "flat red" and is simply not in play in this election. One, however, puzzled over why Obama has campaign staff in Louisiana. He queried: “I don’t know what test Louisiana meets that Arkansas doesn’t.” Maybe that unknown, unstated "test" is the Clinton factor.

Where's the law?

That's the questioned posed by a couple of stories on the Daily Yonder this week.

Here is the link to the first story about regulatory failures in the Crandall Canyon Utah mine disaster a year ago, and here is an excerpt:

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) does some things badly, but one thing it does well is investigate tragedies after the fact. MSHA has a long tradition of issuing reports that are models of thoroughness and objectivity. The report issued by the agency on July 24 is in that tradition. In painstaking detail, it pins the blame for the disaster on fatally flawed engineering and a company determined to pull more coal than even its deficient plan called for. Moreover, MSHA does not absolve itself of blame. Although Murray Energy failed to report three outbursts prior to August 6 that might have prompted diligent regulators to halt production, regulators of that kind were conspicuous by their absence. MSHA shouldn’t have signed off on Murray’s mining plan in the first place. Delinquency, not diligence, marked every step that led to a preventable tragedy.

MSHA’S official report is valuable – but it’s a second report, written by independent investigators Joe Pavlovich and Ernie Teaster, that should be required reading for policymakers if there’s to be any hope of putting MSHA back on track when the Bush years finally grind to an end. Two weeks after the disaster, with the Labor Department taking flak for the way MSHA deferred to Murray during the rescue attempt, Secretary Elaine Chao (who hadn’t troubled to go to Utah) acceded to demands for an independent review of MSHA’s actions before and after August 6. The investigators chosen were both veteran MSHA district managers, since retired: Pavlovich, a Kentuckian, investigated the Sago Mine disaster in 2006, and anyone who has had the privilege of working with him can testify that he’s tops.. But no one knew whether he and Teaster would really be free to conduct an unfettered investigation. They did. And their wide-ranging review makes it clear that the years 2001-2008 have been bad ones for an agency which – like FEMA – has life-and-death responsibilities and should be assured of commensurate resources.

The report depicts an agency hobbled by lax management, especially but not exclusively at the district level; reduced staffing at a time when coal production has been climbing and inspection activities should have been keeping pace; and a misguided strategy to get around staffing problems by emphasizing “compliance assistance” and “special emphasis activities” instead of law enforcement.

The story picked up in the Daily Yonder was initially published in The Mountain Eagle, in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

And here is a link to the second law story, titled "A Fraction of Justice in an Indian Trust Case."

Here's an excerpt:

Last week, federal Judge James Robertson ruled that plaintiffs in the Cobell case are due $455.6 million for the historical mismanagement of Indian trust funds. This is a fraction (less than 1/100th ) of the $46 billion sought in the latest suit.

The Cobell case is the outcome of a class action lawsuit filed 12 years ago; it has sought redress for gross breaches of trust by the U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U. S. Treasury with respect to the management of over 500,000 individual Indians' money collected for use of their lands. In 2001, the U. S. Court of Appeals upheld an earlier federal judge’s opinion that the U. S. government had breached its trust responsibilities to Indians.

* * *

[E]xplaining the Indian trust fund story does requires journeying into ancient history.

In response to white settlers' and entrepreneurs' never ending hunger for land, the U. S. government enacted the Dawes Act in 1887. This policy sought to break up Indian land holdings by allotting small parcels of land, 80-160 acres, to individual Indians who had already been pushed from their land onto reservations through treaties. The government as trustee then took legal charge of the parcels and established the Individual Indian Money Trust to manage and collect revenues generated by mining, oil, timber, grazing and other interests. The money was then to be have been distributed to the allottees and their heirs.

There was trouble from the very start. The Trust was handled in a sloppy and criminal manner. There have been numerous allegations over the years that large oil, gas and coal interests may have received special deals from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use of Indian lands. Some revenues were not collected, or if collected were distributed spuriously. Despite several court-ordered attempts at reform, the system continues to be hopelessly incompetent. In the words of Judge Lamberth's opinion finding the government guilty of mismanagement, “the Interior Department's handling of the Indian Individual Money Trust has served as the gold standard for mismanagement by the federal government for more than a century."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where are we going to put all of these people?

Sam Roberts reports in today's NYT that minorities are likely to be a majority of our nation's population by 2042. An earlier estimate, in 2004, had suggested that this would not happen until 2050, but the forecast has been revised based on "significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies."

The story also reports that our nation's population will top 400 million in 2039, just 33 years after it hit 300 million, in 2006. By 2050, the population is projected to be 439 million. As a similar story on NPR reported today, this will be like adding the populations of France and Great Britain to the United States in the next several decades.

The important cultural and economic implications of this news aside for a moment, one thing that struck me upon hearing this was: where are we going to put all of these people? In part, I am thinking about the environmental and ecological implications of such growth. Of course, we are a large nation in terms of land area, and there is some room to grow. But our cities are already jam packed and spawling, which is one reason that immigrants increasingly settle in nonmetropolitan places. (See, e.g., a Carsey Institute report here and a USDA ERS report here).

In short, this story should give us added motivation to care about rural and nonmetro places, which will increasingly absorb our burgeoning population. Already immigrants are providing a proverbial "shot in the arm" economically for some nonmetro communities. As a nation, we should be helping these communities formulate policies for smart growth (which in many cases will result in them becoming metropolitan communities; consider the changes in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Arkansas MSA in recent decades), and we should be thinking about social service and other programs to help integrate these newcomers into rural communities, many of which have long been static and homogeneous. (Some of my initial thoughts on this migration into the nonmetro South are here).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The plot thickens in the "Wild and Wonderful" political world of West Virginia

Will Governor Joe Manchin III (photo Bob Bird for AP) be the third powerful figure in West Virginia to falter and lose his job due to impropriety, or at the least the appearance of it? The first was the Chief Justice of the W. Va. Supreme Court, Elliot Maynard, who lost his bid for re-election following disclosure of photos of Maynard on vacation in Monaco with the head of Massey Energy Company, which then had a significant case pending before the court. The second was the president of the West Virginia University, Mike Garrison, who resigned after a disclosure that he had granted an MBA to Governor Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, although she had not earned the requisite credits. Bresch, is a former business partner of Garrison's, and she works for Mylan, Inc., whose Chairman was a $20 million donor to the Univeristy and a major contributor to Manchin's campaign for governor.

Now Governor Manchin is under scrutiny for his actions in relation to a lawsuit against DuPont. Manchin filed an amicus brief in June arguing that the state's Supreme Court should review a $382 milion judgmenet against DuPont Company. Manchin says he was acting in the interest of due process, but new information shows he had consulted with DuPont officials before filing the document. The filing was unprecedented in a case in which the state is not a party.

Ian Urbina's story in today's New York Times provides some details of the contact Manchin had with DuPont in the run up to the brief's filing.

On June 2, the governor met with the vice president of DuPont and one of the company’s lawyers to discuss the brief, according to records of the meetings obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The governor also spoke on the phone with DuPont’s chairman and chief executive, Charles O. Holliday Jr., on Nov. 20, 2007, less than a month after the verdict, according to the documents.

Ultimately, DuPont lawyers supplied draft briefs to the governor, and those drafts featured several of the same arguments that ultimately appeared in governor's brief. The story goes on to tell of erased emails between the governor's office and DuPont, which would suggest that Manchin has something to hide. Manchin claims his involvement in the case arose from concern about the state's reputation as being a difficult place to do business.

Urbina's story provides this additional context:

This year, Forbes ranked West Virginia last among states with a business-friendly environment, and some residents saw the governor’s action as a welcome effort to rein in trial lawyers.

“The last thing West Virginia needs is another way to be out of the mainstream when it comes to business and the jobs business brings,” said an editorial in one of the state’s largest newspapers, The Daily Mail in Charleston. “West Virginia needs to look at these questions, which clearly do affect its business climate.”

So, what does the fact that West Virginia is a largely rural state have to do with any of this? As I've suggested before, those in power in rural states like West Virginia, be it in the public or private sector, often have long-standing connections with one another. To use the words of a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice in a 2000 decision where the court was being asked to recuse itself from deciding a matter involving one of its former members, "being a rural state, we are going to know some people."

It may also be that power is concentrated in fewer hands in such states, resulting in fewer checks and balances. A former DuPont lobbyist from West Virginia, Craig Skaggs, suggested as much in his comments on the Manchin-DuPont matter. He said he was "surprised that, even in a small state like West Virginia, DuPont would try to get the governor involved." He added, “I would never have done that.”

Are "out-of-town lawyers" a problem for rural residents, or a benefit to them?

That story out of Zanesville, Ohio, is good for another post, this one about legal representation in rural places. The local lawyer for defendant Muskingum County, Mr. Landes, plays the "out of town" card in referring to the plaintiffs' Washington, DC, lawyers whose civil rights-based suit against Zanesville and Muskingum County resulted in a recent $11 million plaintiffs' verdict.

Here's an excerpt from the NYT story in which Landes suggests the big-city lawyers' self interest:
Mr. Landes characterized the plaintiffs’ legal team as “out-of-town lawyers” who saw the chance of reaping huge legal fees.

Reed Colfax, a member of the Washington legal team, Relman and Dane, noted that the jury found evidence of racial discrimination, adding it would be difficult to overlook racism in a case where city water was extended “to the last white house.”

Moreover, he said, the state attorney general, Nancy Rogers, supported the suit and praised the judgment.
The legal fees are likely to run into millions of dollars, but they will have to be approved by the court.

This part of the story goes to one of my perennial questions about law and rural livelihoods: do rural folk get "less justice" because of the relative shortage of local lawyers, especially those with specialized knowledge of topics such as civil rights or immigration, to take up their causes? In this case, the answer seems to be "no" -- perhaps because the case was attractive enough to get taken up by those big city lawyers. In the many disputes and injustices that we don't learn of because they don't generate litigation or any other form of resolution -- and because they involve out-of-sight, out-of-mind rural places-- the answer is probably "yes."

Local government bias in nonmetropolitan places

The New York Times yesterday published a follow up to a story it ran in 2004, when the Coal Run neighborhood outside Zanesville, Ohio (population 25,586) got city water. Here's an excerpt from Kirk Johnson's story:

Until 2004, the city’s water pipes did not stretch all the way to . . . Coal Run Road, a mostly black neighborhood in a hollow beyond the edge of town. As some people here put it, the water seemed to stop “where the black folks started.”

A federal jury in Columbus agreed last month. The jury, citing a violation of civil rights law, ordered the City of Zanesville and Muskingum County to pay nearly $11 million in damages for failing to provide water to each of 67 plaintiffs, including Mr. Kennedy, for over 45 years. The plaintiffs will be eligible for payments of $15,000 to $300,000. The city and county, whose officials deny any racial discrimination, are appealing the ruling.

* * *

The case goes back to 1956, when a now-defunct water board did not extend service to parts of Coal Run Road. In 2002, about two dozen black residents of the hollow filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, saying they had been denied service because of race. The next year, the commission found “probable cause” of discrimination. A month after that, Muskingum County officials announced they would extend water to Coal Run.

Mark Landes, a lawyer for Muskingum County, asserted that geography--not race--was the real issue. He said those in Coal Run are five miles outside the city limit, and like about 30% of county residents--"almost all of them . . . white"--don't have city water. As he put it, "there's a reason it's called city water."

The story -- and attorney Landes's argument-- reminded me of a recent scholarly publication by Daniel Lichter, Domenico Parisi, Steven Michael Grice, and Michael C. Taquino in Demography 44(3): 563 (2007). Here's the abstract of the article, which is titled "National estimates of racial segregation in rural and small-town America" (emphasis mine) :

The objective of this paper is to provide, for the first time, comparative estimates of racial residential segregation of blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in nonmetropolitan and metropolitan places in 1990 and 2000. Analyses are based on block data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. decennial censuses. The results reveal a singularly important and perhaps surprising central conclusion: levels and trends in recent patterns of racial segregation in America's small towns are remarkably similar to patterns observed in larger metropolitan cities. Like their big-city counterparts, nonmetropolitan blacks are America's most highly segregated racial minority--roughly 30% to 40% higher than the indices observed for Hispanics and Native Americans. Finally, baseline ecological models of spatial patterns of rural segregation reveal estimates that largely support the conclusions reached in previous metropolitan studies. Racial residential segregation in rural places increases with growing minority percentage shares and is typically lower in "new" places (as measured by growth in the housing stock), while racially selective annexation and the implied "racial threat" at the periphery exacerbate racial segregation in rural places. Our study reinforces the need to broaden the spatial scale of segregation beyond its traditional focus on metropolitan cities or suburban places, especially as America's population shifts down the urban hierarchy into exurban places and small towns.

As this scholarly analysis suggests, bias may play out in ways that are more subtle than that acknowledged by the attorney in Zanesville. The decisions about where to draw city boundaries, i.e., decisions about what gets annexed, may also reflect bias that serves to exclude minority populations.