Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pulling out all the stops to save a rural school (Part II): Might new buildings stave off schools' closure?

I wrote a few days ago about the lawsuit brought by the Deer-Mt. Judea School district in Newton County, Arkansas, seeking to prevent being forced to consolidate with the larger, neighboring Jasper district. It appears that the lawsuit will fail, but a recent issue of the Newton County Times (March 30, 2011) reported on a new tack by the school district to save itself from consolidation. The district called a special election to "approve a $1,550,000 refunding and construction bond issue for the purpose of refunding the district's outstanding bonds, dated Sept., 2000 and Sept., 2003, and to provide approximately $1 million for acquiring land, and constructing, refurbishing, remodeling and equipping school facilities." Though the bond issue will result in additional funds for the purposes of improving school facilities, it will not raise the tax rate that the district's property-owners pay to finance the school, which is 33 mills. (The story notes that the state average is 37 mills). This is because of the refinancing of some of the existing bonds. The April 13 issue of the newspaper reports that the bond issue was approved by "qualified electors" in an April 12 election, by a vote of 252 to 193. Thus, the district's residents have committed to taxing their property at the existing rate for a longer period of time in order to enhance their school. This is an unusual move in Newton County, where citizens have historically been very reluctant to levy property taxes above a bare minimum, whatever the cause.

So, what does this move have to do with school consolidation? Well, it appears that part of the motivation for the enhanced physical infrastructure is the hope that it will ward off some possible consequences of consolidation. In particular, the school district seems to anticipate that it will be forced to consolidate with the Jasper School District--probably in the very near future. If it does consolidate, the Mt. Judea and Deer schools seem to think that Jasper will be reluctant to close those schools and bus the Mt. Judea and Deer students to Jasper if it means abandoning nicer and newer buildings.

Here's what the Newton County Times story reports based on comments by Christopher Beardsley, the Deer-Mt Judea School District's "fiscal agent."
Beardsley said another motivator for passing the bond issue is that it would allow the school district to leave its buildings in the best possible shape.

That might encourage the receiving school district to leave the facilities open. But, Beardsley emphasized, "I would never tell a voter that if you vote yes for this that they are going to leave your building open. There's no guarantee that's how its going [to] play out ... We could not make that promise to the voters. We would make that clear."

Responding to another question, Beardsley said that, generally, at first the consolidated school district's tax rate remains the same. Then in its first full year it is voted the larger district's millage.
I was in Newton County last week, and I passed through both Deer and Mt. Judea as I traversed the county to conduct some oral history interviews for the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. I had a chance to take these photos of the Mt. Judea School, and also to consider how much change the county's education system has absorbed over the years. Some of the elderly people I interviewed referred to schools in places like Union Grove and Parthenon--schools closed long ago, as they were presumably consolidated into larger districts. Some of those once "larger" districts now face consolidation themselves.

P.S. Another interesting thing about this story is an explanation of why it is beneficial for the school district to issue these bonds now: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) allows "school districts to issue debt with little to no interest cost to the district." Using this Qualified School Construction Bonds aspect of the ARRA potentially saves "the district $1.1 million in interest costs over the life of the issue." This permits the district to borrow the additional funds, while restructuring the old debt, without a tax increase. I note this because the Newton County Times has typically been negative about the ARRA, yet in an editorial in the March 30, 2011 issue, the paper urges voters to approve the bond issue and touts the benefits of the ARRA for these purposes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

College admission bias against rural students?

In a prior post about Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford’s book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, I mentioned Ross Douthat’s assertion that “the downscale, the rural and the working-class” whites were most disadvantaged in elite college admissions. In this second installment about the book and Douthat’s 2010 column comments on it, I want to discuss the rural issue, which Douthat characterizes as bias against rural or “Red America.” Douthat wrote:
[W]hile most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances.
In his response to Douthat’s initial column, Espenshade clarified that rural-oriented extracurriculars are not the only ones whose value is discounted by admission offices. Espenshade wrote:
These extracurriculars might include 4-H clubs or Future Farmers of America, as Douthat mentions, but they could also include junior ROTC, co-op work programs, and many other types of career-oriented endeavors. Participating in these activities does not necessarily mean that applicants come from rural backgrounds. The weak negative association with admission chances could just as well suggest that these students are somewhat ambivalent about their academic futures.
As a related matter, Espenshade clarifies that applicants from “Red” states have better odds of getting into an elite university than those from more populous states, many of which are “Blue.”
Compared to otherwise similar applicants from California, those from Utah are 45 times as likely to be admitted to one of our elite colleges or universities. The advantage for applicants from West Virginia or Montana is 25 times greater, and nearly 10 times greater for students from Alabama. Because top private schools seek geographic diversity, and students from America’s vast middle are less likely to apply, it stands to reason that their admission chances are higher.
This part of Espenshade’s response essentially skirts the rural issue by ignoring the fact that entire states are not rural, even if they are popularly perceived as “Red.” In short, Espenshade gets the scale wrong. If the goal is geographic diversity beyond a very superficial level, we should be considering not an applicant’s state of origin, but rather county of origin. I would guess that those being admitted from Montana are far more likely to hail from Billings, Bozeman, Missoula or Kalispell, less likely to have grown up in Columbus, Harlowton, Derby, or Plentywood. As Douthat points out, admitted Alabamans hardly represent meaningful geographic diversity and do nothing to enhance socioeconomic diversity if they are products of elite institutions such as Indian Springs School in Birmingham, which is a feeder institution to the Ivy Leagues. Further, Salt Lake City, Montgomery, and Charleston are metropolitan areas, not exactly the hinterlands.

Returning to the finding regarding the impact of rural-type extracurriculars, I find it problematic for several reasons, even with the career-orientation spin that Espenshade puts on it. My annoyance is attributable to my own education in a poor rural school where—guess what?—the only extra-curricular activities were Future Homemakers of America, Future Business Leaders of America (we learned typing and two-column bookkeeping, not portfolio management), a science club (this, ironically, although the school’s science curriculum was so limited that it offered chemistry and physics only on alternate years), basketball, and cheerleading. In the nearly three decades since I graduated, the school has acquired an ag/vo-tech shop program, begun participating in Future Farmers of America, and expanded its sports offerings. In just the last couple of years, it has added music/band. Apparently, only the last of these curricular changes makes students there any more appealing to elite college admission officers.

At the risk of taking this too personally and thus undermining my argument, I’ll continue to use myself as an example. As a high school senior, I applied only to the University of Arkansas, where I was admitted and given a scholarship based strictly on “the numbers.” Had I known I “should” apply to an elite college and done so, I apparently would have looked incredibly uninteresting to those making admission decisions—even though I had held leadership posts and won awards in all of my school’s organizations, participated in 4-H (a community activity, not a school one), and had a 4.0 GPA (no AP courses on offer). My ACT score that was probably in about the nation’s top quartile (no prep course—didn’t know they existed and would have had to travel hours to reach one).

I’m hopelessly biased, of course, but I think I was a pretty interesting 17-year-old—regardless of how this dossier might have looked to an elite college. Certainly I was ambitious, but because my parents were working class, I had very limited knowledge of how to get ahead in the world, and my high school did not then have a counselor. In terms of diversity of life experience, I would say I offered a great deal to the nation’s elite colleges.

As a white class migrant in academia, I suspect I am relatively rare—especially among my generational cohort. As a rural, working-class student with promise, however, I am sure that my 17-year-old self was/is not alone. How many such working-class white students—especially rural ones with credentials that are even less cognizable to and appreciated by admission officers—might get ahead and achieve their potential if they had the sort of opportunities and encouragement that gets them in the pipeline to an elite college (or, for that matter, any college)? We must ask the same question re: working class minority students, of course, but at least we know that elite college admissions officers are on the lookout for them. Those same admissions personnel don’t appear to be looking for—or perhaps even to know how to identify—working-class whites, rural or not. Read more here. If they do, they appear to dismiss them as uninteresting or unworthy, using the euphemism “career-oriented.”

Justice Powell wrote of the value of diversity in Bakke v. University of California Regents (1978):
[A] great deal of learning occurs informally. It occurs through interactions among students of both sexes; of different races, religions, and backgrounds; who come from cities and rural areas, from various states and countries; who have a wide variety of interests, talents, and perspectives; and who are able, directly or indirectly, to learn from their differences and to stimulate one another to reexamine even their most deeply held assumptions about themselves and their world. (emphasis added)
Ironically, Powell was quoting a Princeton University admissions officer, who is also quoted in Espenshade and Radford’s book. In Bakke, Justice Powell also referred to diversity as a “tenet of Harvard College admissions,” writing: 
Fifteen or twenty years ago … diversity meant students from California, New York, and Massachusetts; city dwellers and farm boys; violinists, painters and football players, biologists, historians and classicists; potential stockbrokers, academics and politicians. The result was that very few ethnic or racial minorities attended Harvard College. In recent years, Harvard College has expanded the concept of diversity to include students from disadvantaged economic, racial and ethnic groups. Harvard College now recruits not only Californians or Louisianans, but also blacks and Chicanos and other minority students.
[T]he race of an applicant may tip the balance in his favor just as geographic origin or life spent on a farm may tip the balance in other candidates’ cases. A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer. The quality of the educational experience of all the students at Harvard College depends in part on these differences in the background and outlook that students bring with them.
Thus, the rural-urban axis was at one time prominently recognized in relation to diversity, and the rural-urban divide has only become more marked in the several decades since Bakke. Yet Espendshade and Radford’s study suggests that elite college admissions offices know precious little about the far rural end of the rural-urban continuum. They don’t seem to know, for example, that extra-curricular activities are extremely limited at many rural schools, and they tend to put those that are mostly available in the death knell category: “career-oriented.” Admission officers are perhaps not aware of the impact of spatial inequality and isolation, rural poverty, and other aspects of rural disadvantage (e.g., limited curriculum) on students’ lives, as well as on their college aspirations and applications. Or, maybe they are aware are and just have a “too bad,” “tough break” attitude. 

If geographical context is beyond the knowledge of those assessing the presumably rare applications from rural students—those effectively denying these students access to elite education and its apparently snowballing benefits—how can the expansive view of diversity endorsed by the Bakke Court be achieved? Just as admission offices seem to know little of the realities of white working class, so they know little about the rural sub-set of that group. This blind spot seems to me one more reason that elite colleges should affirmatively seek to admit rural and other white working class youth. If we don’t facilitate their class migration, how are we going to know what we know—and what we don’t know—about the lived realities of these socially and spatially removed groups?

Cross-posted to ClassCrits Blog, UC Davis Faculty Blog, and SALTLaw Blog.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pulling out all the stops to save a rural school (Part I): Suing the state with a focus on transportation

The Newton County Times, my hometown weekly, reported in December, 2010, that the Deer-Mt. Judea school district had filed suit against the state of Arkansas to prevent the district's consolidation with the neighboring Jasper School District (my own alma mater). The Mt. Judea and Deer schools (Deer is my mother's alma mater)--two of four schools in Newton County--consolidated with one another in 2004, following Act 57 of 2003, which established the state's current educational funding structure and set the target district size at 500, "using factors like transportation and personnel." Under that Act, the Arkansas Board of Education forces consolidation of districts with fewer than 350 students. The enrollment in the Deer-Mt. Judea district is currently 363, so the lawsuit is a preemptive strike. On March 17, 2011, the Pulaski County Circuit Court dismissed the district's suit.

The Deer-Mt. Judea district made some interesting legal and factual arguments in its suit against the governor, the state department of education, and other defendants. However, my impression is that most of the purely legal arguments have failed in recent suits brought by other districts. Suits by schools in Lake View, Two Rivers (Yell County), Elaine, and Paron (Saline County) have all failed in recent years, with those school districts since having been consolidated with others.

According to stories in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one focus of the suit by Deer-Mt. Judea is the disproportionate cost of transportation borne by rural districts. The state pays a flat rate of $286/student for transportation, regardless of district size. This leaves more densely populated and compact school districts with a windfall, while creating hardship for rural and remote districts whose students are spatially dispersed. For 2008-2009, the state's transportation allotment for Deer-Mt. Judea was just $108,294, representing about a third of its total transport costs. Meanwhile, the state transport allotment for the Fort Smith district was $1.5 million more than the district actually spent on transportation. The Deer-Mt. Judea district sought an injunction against consolidation and a ban on school bus rides longer than 45-minutes each way. It also sought recognition that the state owes the same quality of education to children who are bused as to those who are not.

Other Arkansas schools have also recently made arguments related to the constitutionality of long bus rides in the past few years, but those have not gained much purchase with the Arkansas Supreme Court. In 2006, a trial court judge rued that Paron High School (Saline County) should be kept open to avoid the students having to make four-hour bus rides, but the state Supreme Court soon overruled that decision.

Apart from the lawsuit, Richard Denniston, superintendent of the Deer-Mt. Judea district, has reportedly tried several tactics to convince legislators to act in the interests of rural schools. One story reports:
A bus tour of the district--complete with a bus breakdown that left legislators stranded on a hillside--was among Denniston's previous attempts to gain legislative support against a merger.
The story does not make clear whether Denniston planned the breakdown--or only the tour.

The Deer-Mt. Judea district has filed notice of appeal. In a subsequent post, I will discuss other efforts by the district to save itself.

A list of Arkansas high schools is available here. I took these photos of buildings at the Deer School on a recent visit to Newton County. Note the USDA Rural Development logos on the sign at the school. I noticed several such signs around the county, all touting the federal money coming into the county to help fund infrastructure projects. Another such sign was at the Jasper sewage treatment plant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Arkansas's tiny persistent poverty counties carved up in re-districting

I arrived this week in my hometown, Jasper, Arkansas, to news that the surrounding county, Newton County, will soon be split between two (of the state's four) congressional districts, the 3d and the 4th. The map for this plan is shown above. Newton County has long been part of the 3d Congressional District, which includes booming Washington and Benton Counties in the state's northwest quadrant. The map below shows the current districts.

Admittedly, Newton County has little in common with the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers AR/MO Metropolitan Area (NWA), its 3d district companion until now. Newton County is one of the state's several persistent poverty counties, and one of only two (along with Searcy County to the east) such counties in the Ozarks plateau. Meanwhile, the NWA Metro area becomes more affluent by the day--as Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods, and other corporate giants flourish there, along with their many vendors and well-compensated executives.

On the other hand, Newton County also has little in common with the 4th Congressional District, which until now has covered a full third of the state's land area, extending to Texarkana in Arkansas's far southwest corner. Further, the 4th has previously extended across the state's southern border with Louisiana, all the way to the Mississippi River and several counties deep from that southern state line. (see map below) Under the new proposal, the 4th won't extend all the way to the Mississippi River, stopping just one county short as you move north along the river, with Chicot and Desha County now moved into the 1st Congressional District. The 4th district will also not be quite as "deep" north to south as it currently is. These 4th District agriculture-oriented counties in the state's flat land arguably have even less in common with Newton County than the booming NWA Metro area that dominates the 3d District.

Bottom line: Newton County doesn't fit well in either district. Its physical geography is more like that of the 3d District in that it is on the Ozarks plateau; its political economy and culture may be slightly more similar to the 4th in the sense that it is poor and, like many counties in the 4th, sparsely populated.

What's really bugging me, I suppose, is that Newton County must be divided at all. With fewer than 8,000 residents, I find it odd that Newton County is one of only five counties in the entire state being divided between districts. Ditto regarding Searcy County, with about the same number of residents, which is being divided between the 1st and 3d districts. Not only are these two counties not in the same district, with just about 15,000 residents total, they are split--oddly--among three districts! More appropriate is the fact that the part of Newton County going to the 4th district will be accompanied by Madison, Johnson and Franklin counties, all of which feature somewhat similar economies and cultures (although Madison County is technically part of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Area because it is within commuting range).
My annoyance about this redistricting outcome was enhanced when I learned that an earlier version of the redistricting plan split neither Newton nor Searcy counties. Instead, last month's proposed plan split Washington County, home of Fayetteville and the state's land grant University of Arkansas, between the 3d and 3th Districts. Read more about that here. With some 200,000 residents, I can see Washington County being the size of county that might need to be divided between two districts, given that the goal is for each of the four districts to have about 729,000 residents. But the powerful business interests in Washington County didn't like the proposed split, and they had the clout to send legislators back to the drawing board. The outcome: a new plan that instead splits two tiny counties (Newton and Searcy) and three somewhat more populous ones: Crawford(58,740), Sebastian (121,325), and Jefferson (79,698).

Read some stories about the redistricting here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Prescription drug abuse claims a second generation of Appalachians

The New York Times Magazine reported nearly a decade ago on the scourge of OxyContin in Appalachia. Now, today's paper brings us a grim update under the headline "Ohio County Losing Its Young to Painkillers' Grip." Sabrina Tavernese reports from Portsmouth, Ohio, population 20,180. There, in Scioto County (population 76,310), nearly 1 in 10 babies born last year tested positive for drugs. By 2007, fatal overdoses had surpassed automobile accidents as the top cause of accidental deaths in Ohio. The number of such overdoses in the state quadrupled in the past decade.

Read more here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXVII): Co-defendants in assault cases get probation

That's a front-page headline in the April 6, 2011, issue of the Newton County Times. It reports that a father-daughter pair of defendants who were charged with assaulting a couple who allegedly failed to pay their rent at the Dogwood Campground, have been sentenced to a year of probation. The 57-year-old father, who owns the campground, was charged with aggravated assault, a Class D felony, battery in the second degree, a Class D felony, and battery in the third degree, a Class A misdemeanor. The man was accused of holding the victim to the ground while his 21-year-old daughter and co-defendant held a rifer at the victim's head. Indeed, this is apparently how law enforcement officers found the defendants when they arrived at the scene of the altercation. In exchange for reducing the assault and battery charges against the man and his daughter, the co-defendants entered guilty pleas. In addition to a year of probation, each will pay a $500 fine.

In other crime news:
  • A 45-year-old man pleaded guilty to making and uttering hot checks and will serve a year's probation, in addition to paying a $100 fine and court costs.
  • A 31-year-old man pleased guilty to a Class D felony charge of non-support. The man will serve six years probation and must make restitution of nearly $17,000.
  • A 27-year-old man was charged with a Class B felony for agreeing to purchase and taking possession of "492 bales of hay valued at $9840 from Elvis Middleton" and having them delivered to Texas. Charges were dropped after the alleged thief made restitution.
In other news:
  • The county received an $81,000 Historic Preservation Restoration Grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage to replace the roof and upgrade the electrical service in the county courthouse. After taking bids, the roof work is proceeding.

  • The county Quorum Court passed a resolution necessary for the application for a grant to complete the Marble Falls Waste Water System Rehabilitation Project. The local governing body also adopted an appropriation ordinance: "a $7,098 grant from the Dept. of Finance and Administration for an intoximeter for the sheriff's office; $1,527.27 transferred form the Office of Emergency Services budget for communication training ...; and $40,631 for Newton County Courthouse Historical Preservation. Regarding the status of converting the former nursing home to a county jail, the sheriff reported that the project architect has recommended that the county remove asbestos from the building at a cost of $35,000. A total cost estimate for the building's rehabilitation is pending.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"COAL" runs deep.

Coupled with inexpensive production and wild popularity, reality TV has become a mainstay for every television network. Shows ranging from "The Bachelor" to "Survivor" to "Big Fat Loser" attract millions of viewers every night. As other posts on this blog have explained, reality TV has fetishized the rural. Shows like "The Simple Life," "Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive," and "Farmer Wants a Wife" reinforce negative stereotypes about rurality to a national audience. Luckily, Spike TV's latest reality show, "COAL," does a better job than its predecessors.

"COAL," which premiered on March 30, focuses on the drama of running a small coal mine in West Virginia. Admittedly, I know nothing about coal mining other than that it has huge environmental and human costs. It was only a year ago when 29 out of 31 miners died in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And there is no shortage of coverage about the environmental carnage wrought by coal mining. Just a couple days ago the New York Times reported on the wholesale disappearance of West Virginia towns because of mountaintop mining.

As "research" for this post, I watched the first two episodes of the program and was absolutely riveted. Reality TV is notorious for its lack of anything "real," but from what I can tell, "COAL" does a pretty good job of explaining the mechanics of mining while it focuses on the human drama inherent in such a dangerous enterprise. The New York Times' review can be found here, but I recommend watching the show over reading anything about it. To whet your appetite, here's the trailer:

What struck me most about "COAL" was the recurring theme of the gamble. The show juxtaposes the story of two investors betting $4 million on a mountain with the story of 35 employees risking their lives every day to help those investors extract as much value out of that mountain as quickly as possible. The show tells us of the symbiotic relationship between the investors and the miners of Cobalt Coal, but it is obvious that the risks are inherently unequal. In one episode, while the CEO stressed out about the mine's inability to turn a profit in four weeks, miners were literally being smoked out of the mine and injured by equipment. Every episode I watched featured some near-accident. One miner admitted that "you have to be a little crazy" to have his job title, and the show's narrator pointed out that some positions in the mine are akin to "being a marked man." In fact, just a week ago the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the mine featured in "COAL" for safety violations that federal officials noticed when they watched the show. Cobalt's CEO acknowledged the citations and admitted fault. He even went so far as to say that "COAL" could be used as an instructive tool for mine safety courses.

While other reality shows have exploited the rural in the past, perhaps "COAL" is an exception and can serve as an example to other TV networks looking to make entertaining TV without relying on stereotypes and oversimplifications.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Gray Lady observes rural America

Regular followers of Legal Ruralism will know I am an avid New York Times reader. Of course, I don't just read it for the rural news--or to see what person or place the paper may be willy nilly labeling "rural" today. (Followers will also know I'm a bit sensitive about the use of this term for places with populations in excess of, oh, say, 50,000!). No, for me the Times is the newspaper of record, a daily "must read," or at least "must scan," even on vacation.

Sometimes, it seems that weeks pass with nary a mention of the rural. At other times, I find a surfeit of rural stories. This week has been one of the latter. Here are some of my finds from the past week or so:

As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes, dateline Lindytown, West Virginia, not a Census Designated Place, but in Boone County, population 25,000.

An Appalachian Radio Voice Threatened from Afar
, dateline Whitesburg, Kentucky, population 1,649.

Indians Join Fight for an Oklahoma Lake's Flow, dateline Tuskahoma, Oklahoma, not a Census Designated Place

High Prices Sow Seeds of Erosion
, out of Portsmouth, Iowa, population 192

Recognition to the Specks on the Map, from near Hobbs, New Mexico, population 29,777 (discussed in this post)

Moving to the City, but Clinging to Native Ways
, from Anchorage and Kongiganak, Alaska, population 399.

Kudos to the New York Times for this coverage ... or maybe we should just attribute it to a slow news week.

Census naïveté

I have to admit my considerable naïveté when it comes to the U.S. Census. I filled out my first Census within a year from moving to the United States, and was puzzled by several of its questions. We filled out my husband's ethnicity as Spanish-Mayan-Aztec Hispanic Non-White, and mine as Caucasian-Jewish (making plenty of use of the write-in space for "Other").  Even the word Caucasian caused me some serious head-scratching, as without Wikipedia back then, I could not easily understand how the term became associated with the (relatively) light-skinned people populating Europe (because, honestly, our connection to the people of Georgia and other truly Caucasian nations is at best attenuated).  It turns out, the term is now largely disfavored, and justly so... now we use terms that are more descriptive of people geographic origins, than their perceived "race."

And now, I have to further educate myself to understand what the New York Times means when it says that Nadine, N.M. is now a "Census Designated Place." It means that they will be counted as a separate place, even though unincorporated, and not as an extension of another place, the nearby town of Hobbs.  Great.  Does this mean they were not really counted before?

It does mean that, precisely.  The New York Times writes:
With only a few hundred souls, it was counted, if at all, as an extension of Hobbs, the nearest real city of about 34,000 people just to the north. (emphasis added)
New, more sophisticated Census rules now allow smaller places, or "hamlets" as the Times says, to be counted on their own right.  The Times argues that this speaks volumes about "ethnic and economic identity in post-recession America" and I tend to agree with this summation.  But it does speak volumes about the whole Census process, as it was at least viewed until now.

In a nutshell, the revised Census rules uncover a greater truth about the bias in Law and Government: we (as a society) were not counting small places because they seemed not to matter to us.  The absence of law and state in rural places is frequently mentioned on this blog, for example here, and here.  That the government turns around and changes policy to include places with lesser population is surely a positive sign, is it not?

Oh, wishful thinking.  It wasn't the Government who changed its mind spontaneously and said: "Forgive our ignorance, we want to learn about your predicament, small hamlets."  The Times article reveals that the change in Census counting rules was the result of relentless lobbying by the "hamlets" throughout the country.
The region made a concentrated effort to get everyone counted, hoping to make the case that the area was ripe for business investment. Given the ferocious competition among small communities for chain stores, restaurants and manufacturers, “everyone got involved in pushing,” said Bob Reid, a board member at the Lea County Community Improvement Corporation.
Encouraging residents to fill out their census forms included a door-to-door campaign and a parade to the post office in Hobbs organized by the Hobbs Hispano Chamber of Commerce, followed by a cookout.
The drumbeat for participation worked: Hobbs’s population, in the new count, grew nearly 17 percent, as did the county’s as a whole. And fingers are crossed: A new farm equipment supply store opened in Hobbs last month.
An inspiring story about grassroots organizations standing up to Big Government! As a result of their lobbying, I am able to correct my naming of the town, per our blogging conventions: Nadine, N.M. (population 376).

Where do you want to be when the world ends?

There are thousands of predictions swirling around the Mayan Calendar and its end date in December 2012. Likewise, I have recently seen a lot of billboards by Christians who are predicting that the rapture is coming on May 21st of this year. Now, I am not saying that I buy into any of this, but how about some food for thought…Where do you want to be If anything remotely close to the apocalypse does occur? Would you rather be living in the middle of skyscrapers and sewers, or perhaps would you rather be holed up at your grandparents’ summer cabin in the remote mountains of Northern California?

During the winter of 2005/06 I was living in Humboldt County when we experienced one of the worst storms I can remember. As a result, my house, along with the rest of the town was without electricity for 10 days. After the initial shock, an interesting thing happened… after day two, we realized that the electricity may not return for some time, so we all just went on as if nothing was wrong. I spent New Year’s Eve in a rustic bar lit by candles. We had a transistor radio to dance to, and the drinks flowed. It was like being back in time. I was amazed at how the people up there really came together and made the best of their situation.

Flash ahead one year, and I was living in the middle of San Francisco on the third floor of a four story apartment building. It had nice windows which allowed me to survey the streets below. Sometimes I would try to imagine what would happen if the electricity went out for even 5 days. What if an earthquake hit and both bridges were inoperable? It surely would not have turned into the hippy commune-Koom-by-yah that it did when I lived in the hills of Humboldt County. How long before the dredges crawled up Knob Hill to take a piece out of every well-to-do yuppie’s ass, I thought? I gave it about 72 hours. Needless to say, I always kept a rifle and a coffee can full of .22 rounds in my closet. I figured I could hold them off until the National Guard came in and really made a mess of the place.

Ever since I saw the movie Red Dawn at the age of 8, I have had an apocalypse/WWIII plan in the back of my head. I have a spot picked out, and a fair amount of survival gear at my disposal. My father being a decorated Vietnam vet instilled his survival skill set into our family. In the mountains you can fish and hunt, and hide much like the Indians did before the gold miners came. I imagine that if something did happen in 2012, those in the mountains may not even be affected for months. Those in the city would already have been turned into zombies and killed each other by then. Let’s hope that nothing at all happens on May 21, 2011 or December 2012, however, I am thinking harder about asking for some vacation time around the end of the Mayan Calendar, just to be on the safe side.

Farmers and Fish

Last week in my blog post I mentioned a debate in my hometown between farmers and fishermen/environmentalists. As I was skimming the articles for my next rural law blog post idea, I ran across a Field and Stream blog post, “Big Salmon Run Reignites Farmers v. Fish Debate in California.” So, I felt called on to revisit this debate in more detail.

According to the April 8th article, the Sacramento River basin has become the center of renewed debate because, due to increased environmental controls over the last several years, salmon are returning to the riverbeds. When I asked local fisherman, Andrew J. Booth, about this bit of fishy news, he said he is excited about the salmon comeback and prospects for the local ecology and increased sporting prospects. He also noted that the recent rains flooding the Sacramento causeways and expected high volume snow melt coming from the mountains laden with winter weather this year will aid in the fish recovery. The increased water volume should allow immature salmon or “fry” to develop in safe freshwater habitats before swimming to the sea for their transformation into salmon. This all bodes well for future sport on the river.

Farmers in the Sacramento valley, on the other hand, express concerns about the increased sporting enthusiasm. Field and Stream writes:

“…advocates of the farming industry contend that curtailed water exports have done little besides put thousands of farmhands out of work and slash the number of acres planted. Instead, they blame pollution, overfishing and invasive species for the collapse of the fishery three years ago. "For years, the left has used the environment as an excuse to take more and more of this precious resource away from the people," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Alpaugh (Tulare County). "It is time for Congress to give it back so that our economy, our farms and our rural communities can thrive."

Mr. Nunes’ statement, however, seems disingenuous and ignores some of the more accurate realities. Water issues, at least in rural California, can be bipartisan rather than the sole purview of left-leaning environmentalists. This particular disagreement arises out of the disparate interests in and between rural communities. On the one hand, many people in rural areas rely on their rivers and lakes as both a community resource for leisure time activities and to bring in revenues from environmental and outdoor sporting tourists. These communities have more than an ideological interest in environmental preservation. On the other hand, farmers, often rural, make their profits from draining precious water resources into their fields. My hometown of Dunsmuir is in the former camp, with almost all of its local businesses reliant on summer visitors who come to enjoy the mountain air, lakes and streams for both sporting and sightseeing purposes. In fact, Dunsmuir advertises itself as the "home of the best water on earth." However, the surrounding communities associate with environmentalist views or farmer views depending on their income sources.

Tulare County would seem similarly situated. While farming, fishing and forestry jointly employ 14 percent of the county, 17 percent find work in the service industry. The portion of that 14 percent employed in fishing no doubt prefer fish to farms. Also, east Tulare is primarily national park and wilderness (including Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks) visited by hikers, fishers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Towns located near these areas no doubt rely on this tourist activity for survival. Consequently, Rep. Nunes is only addressing one element of his community at the expense of others.