Monday, April 30, 2012

The rural Chinese peasant (well, in this case, lawyer) as "everyman"

This report on NPR seeks to explain the differing Chinese government reactions to (1) the Bo Xilai affair and (2) the escape (and ongoing saga) of Chen Guangcheng, the blind chinese activist/lawyer apparently now being harbored at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  Specifically, journalist Louisa Lim compares the Chinese response to coverage of the two incidents on social media, such as the microblogging site Weibo.  With respect to the Xilai matter, the suggestion is that the government is "mixing it up" online, perhaps releasing false information so that the public will be confused about what is happening.  Given what Xilai is said to have done, the government is not concerned that he may be demonized online.  With Chen, on the other hand, the government "censorship machine has tried to deny his very existence."  Charlie Custer of the translation site, ChinaGeeks, org., suggests that this is because Chen's case is "more potent" because Chen represents China's "everyman"--poor and rural.  Lim quotes Custer:
The whole Bo Xilai thing is sort of like watching an opera or watching a movie.  It's very entertaining and very interesting, but it doesn't cause the average person to think, 'Wow, that could happen to me.'  Chen Guangcheng comes from a rural, poor background, so he strikes a chord with a lot of people.  Then seeing his family--these people who are completely innocent of anything--be arrested and held without trial or charges, that does resonate with a lot people.
Read more about the Chen Guangcheng matter here.  Read more about Bo Xilai here.

Rural after-school program runs afoul of Colorado law

Karen Auge reports in today's Denver Post on the struggle of some after-school programs to comply with state law, in large part because the regulations for such programs are "all based on metro areas."

The dateline is Wiggins, Colorado, population 838, in nonmetropolitan Morgan County, in the state's eastern plains.  Morgan County's population is 28,159, and its poverty rate is 14.6%.  But Auge's story suggests that poverty rate is deceptively low.  She describes the "slice of the prairie" that is Morgan County as "second only to Denver as the toughest place in the state to grow up, according to this year's statewide Kids County report."  The story continues:  
In a side-by-side comparison of the state's 25 most populous counties, the report, released by the Colorado Children's Campaign, found that Morgan County leads the state in the rate of births to mothers who don't have a high school diploma.  
The county is also one of two with the highest rate of obese children.

It is in this socio-economic context that Jodi Walker launched a free after-school program two years ago. She calls it Kids at Their Best and runs it out of the Wiggins Fire Hall.  She says it was "supposed to be something for kids in the grip of poverty to do in the afternoon besides sit at home alone or roam unsupervised.  The goal was to expose them to a little art, help them find something to aspire to."

But Walker's efforts run afoul of a range of state regulations, even some that were recently modified to respond to her situation.  Even the state's interim director of child care acknowledges:
It's hard to have programs for children in rural communities, for a lot of reasons.  It's expensive; there are not enough children.
Walker does not want to be a licensed child-care provider because they have to comply with a range of rules designed to keep kids safe, including the monitoring of staffing levels, building design and hygiene.  But Walker doesn't have paid staff; she relies on volunteers, given that her annual budget is just about $25,000, from grants and private donations.  Plus, the kids who drop in at Walker's program range from age 5 to 12 or 13, older than the toddlers and pre-schoolers who populate child care centers.

State officials agreed in 2010 that Walker didn't fit into any licensing category, but they thought she would fit into a category being created in new legislation:  neighborhood youth organization.

In the end, however, the legislation included a provision that limits the category to facilities that kids drop into and leave on their own (think Boys and Girls Clubs), and which excludes facilities where parents drop off and pick up their kids.  Needless to say, given the spatial and transportation realities of a place like Wiggins, this prevents licensing for Walker's facility.

This strikes me as a great example of the sort of presumably unintended consequence of legislation that could be avoided if lawmakers engaged in "rural-proofing," a practice used in Australia and New Zealand to consider the consequences of laws in and on rural communities--before those laws are passed.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Natural signs of population loss on the great plains

A. G. Sulzberger reports in today's New York Times on some of the material--that is, natural--consequences of population decline in the Great Plains.  The headline is "Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos."  An excerpt from the story, about how abandoned silos have "through happenstance transformed into unlikely nurseries for trees," follows:
The sight is a familiar one along the dusty back grounds of the Great Plains:  an old roofless silo left to the elements along with decaying barns, chicken coops and stone homesteads. 
This is the landscape of rural abandonment that defines a region that has struggled with generations of exodus.   
A former Kansas agriculture secretary interviewed for the story acknowledged that a visitor to the family's farm might think it abandoned because of the number of buildings that are no longer used.  Sulzberger explains that this is a consequence of rural life being "shaped by the new realities of industrial agriculture," including the need for fewer laborers (leaving many homes to stand empty) and modern farm equipment too big for "old-time barns."
In an era of specialization, those growing wheat and corn are less likely to raise cows and chickens on the side, so livestock buildings--including the silos--are left to gather dust. 
And because it can be more expensive to tear these down than to leave the task to time, they are left to teeter.  
Meanwhile, some folks who still live on or near their family farms live what Sulzberger characterizes as "suburban lives," commuting to off-farm jobs.

Don't miss The Art of the Rural's coverage of Sulzberger's story here.  Matthew Fluharty includes several fantastic photos of silo trees by Kansas photographer Ken Wolf.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The rural-urban axis in the race to be U.S. Senator from Virginia

The New York Times feature story on this close Virginia race  in today's paper explains that the contest between George Allen and Tim Kaine "will play out in a state as purple as any in the nation, divided by race and geography, property and power."  Journalist Jonathan Weisman revisits the "geography" part later in the story with this:
In past Virginia elections, Republicans have been able to marshal their strengths in conservative rural areas of south and central Virginia, disaffected Appalachia and military-dominated Norfolk to overwhelm urban Democratic pockets.  But the growth of Washington's Northern Virginia suburbs--with their affluent, educated core and ethnic polyglot--has changed the political equation.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Agribusiness vs Bison in eastern Montana

That's the gist of this story in the New York Times yesterday.   Or you could say the gist is agribusiness vs. Native Americans.  The dateline is Wolf Point, Montana, population 2,621, 10,425, in the state's "high line" area, the northeastern part.  Wolf Point is the county seat of Roosevelt County (population 10,425) , but also--and highly significantly for purposes of this story--the largest population center on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which encompasses 74% of the county's land area.  Here's an excerpt from Nate Schweber's story:

Sioux and Assiniboine tribe members wailed a welcome song last month at around 60 bison from Yellowstone National Park stormed onto a prairie pasture that had not let a bison's hoof for almost 140 years.   
That historic homecoming came just 11 days after 71 pureblood bison, descended from one of Montana's last wild herds, were released nearly onto untilled grassland owned by a charity with a vision of building a haven for prairie wildlife. 
"Populations of all native Montana wildlife have been allowed to rebound except bison; it's time to take care of them like they once took care of us," said Robert Magnan, 58, director of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation's Fish and Game Department, who will oversee the translated Yellowstone bison program
* * *
"I call them my brothers and sisters because they are a genetic link to the same ones my ancestors hunted," said Tote Gray Hawk, 54, a Sioux who has brought the Fort Peck bison hay and water each day since their arrival.  Their meat--lower in cholesterol than beef--will feed elderly tribe members and their skulls will be used in traditional sun dance ceremonies, he said.  
But not everyone agrees with Magnan, Gray Hawk, and others at Fort Peck.  Farmers, ranchers and other agribusiness interests worry that the herd will damage private property and compete for grass with their cattle.   Curt McCann, a 46-year-old Chinook rancher, is quoted:  "Bison are a romantic notion, but they don't belong today."  McCann had driven four hours to Jordan, Montana, to participate in a public meeting about the reintroduction of the bison.  "Bison is a big issue that could really impact our livelihood," said another man who ranches near Jordan.  Agribusiness is the state's biggest industry in Montana, where three million cattle are being raised but where no single bison roams free.

Northeastern Montana features a prairie expanse almost the size of Indiana.  This article investigates whether that expanse is large enough for both agribusiness and a few hundred (or thousand) bison.

(Old) chickens migrate from urban to rural, but find no walk in the park

This New York Times story about what some Portlanders are doing with their laying hens as the hens age and stop producing eggs is still on the top-10 most emailed list at, several days after it was first published.    It's titled "A Place for Old Chickens, Outside the Pot," and it tells of how some urban chicken keepers in Portland are "re-homing" their older birds outside the city, as on farms in places like Estacada, 35 miles south of Portland, and Scio, farther south still, in Linn County.

One especially interesting angle on this is the "rural idyll," that many of the Portlanders project onto these "sanctuary farms" that accept the older chickens for their "golden years."  A woman whose husband owns one of them describes city visitors "stroll[ing] through the garden, eating vegetables and food off the trees."  She continues:
I think it's one of these things when people have a vision of coming to our house and it's a park.  And they think, 'Oh, this is where my chicken is going to live.'  They want it rehomed here because they have a fantasy of a farm.
The man who runs the Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in Scio, Wayne Geiger, describes the same phenomenon:
People think they got out to the sanctuary and they go skipping through the meadows and the fields are covered in daisies.
In reality, Geiger explains:
The reality... is that the birds must often be penned to limit breeding, cockfights and predator attacks.  He has suggested that cities retool their chicken-keeping policies to allow backyards to grow large enough to include aging birds.  Doing so would allow senior birds to stay in their coops while the youngsters continue laying.  
So, it seems, both the city and the country play roles in this 21st century agricultural dilemma.

Karen Wolfgang of Independence Gardens, who teaches a course to help "urban farms plan for a wholesome end for their chickens," offers this closing thought:
There's a pragmatic way of looking at it that's not necessarily the norm in urban settings.  Our relationship with the nonhuman world is complicated.  We did breed domestic animals to do what we need them to do, but what we need them to do is changing.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

More Wendell Berry and the significance of place

I wrote yesterday of Bittman's post about Wendell Berry.  Today, I offer this excerpt from Berry's 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture, delivered Monday, April 23, 2012.  That lecture is titled, "It All Turns on Affection."  The Jefferson lecture is the most prestigious honor the U.S. government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."

This excerpt from the lecture follows on two stories from the lives of Berry's grandfather and father, both farmers in Port Royal, Kentucky, where Berry and his brother still farm:  
It is not beside the point, or off the my subject, to notice that these stories and their meanings, have survived because of my family's continuing connection to its home place.  Like my grandfather, my father grew up on that place and served as its caretaker.  It has now belonged to my brother for many years, and he in turn has been its caretaker.  He and I have lived as neighbors, allies, and friends.  Our long conversation has often taken its themes from the two stories I have told, because we have been continually reminded of them by our home neighborhood and topography.  If we had not lived there to be reminded and to remember, nobody would have remembered.  If either of us had lived elsewhere, both of us would have known less.  If both of us, like most of our generation, had moved away, the place with its memories would have been lost to us and we to it--and certainly my thoughts about agriculture, if I had thought of it at all, would have been much more approximate than they have been.  
Because I have never separated myself from my home neighborhood, I cannot identity myself to myself apart from it.  I am literally flesh of its flesh.  It is present in me, and to me, wherever I go.  
Later in the lecture, Berry says:
The cultural cycle is an unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value.  That is what is meant, and it is all that is meant, by "sustainability."  The fertility cycle turns by the law of nature.  The cultural cycle turns on affection.
I believe Berry is telling us that this affection is for both people and place and that, for him, they are integrally linked.  Read the full lecture here.  Read coverage by The Art of the Rural here.

Senate approves plan for U.S. Post Office "relief"

Read the story in yesterday's New York Times.  I note that it this particular item does not mention the issue of rural post office closures in particular, though it does note that proposed closures will be delayed.  A short excerpt follows:
The Senate on Wednesday overcame opposition from several Republicans and passed legislation that would overhaul the financially ailing Postal Service, voting weeks before the agency plans to begin closing thousands of post offices and consolidating hundreds of processing centers to cut costs.  
NPR's coverage of the Senate action is here.   David Welna's story pays more attention to the rural-urban axis, writing:
Senators were divided over the bill less by party than by strength of their ties to rural America.   
The "postmaster general originally was talking about shutting down 3,700 rural post offices in every state in the country," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.  "And I hope that members understand that a post office in a rural town is more than just a post office.  [If that] post office disappears--in many cases, that town disappears." 
Too bad, said critics of the bill, who dismissed it a a futile attempt to preserve an institution overtaken by technological change.  
"I hope that my colleagues understand we are looking at basically a dying part of America's economy," said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
Welna notes that while two-thirds of Americans favor cessation of Saturday mail delivery in order to save money, only 12% support closure of their local post office.  He closes with a quote from Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, who offered the amendment that extends for another year the moratorium on post office closings.  She notes that during that year, "the reforms ...embedded in this bill have a chance to begin to work.  It then sets some clear standards for potential closures."

Law and Order in the Ozarks (XCIX): Federal-local tensions

Newly sworn in U.S. Senator John Boozman visited Jasper in January, when he discussed a range of issues with constituents and local officials.  These included U.S. Postal Service cuts, reductions to Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to the county, U.S. Forest Service issues, and lack of federal funding for the new jail.  As I belatedly read through the issues discussed during that visit (as reported in the January 12, 2012 issue), I noted a common, persistent theme:  tensions between federal and local officials over how to manage land, roads, wildlife and crime.

In particular, the County Sheriff Keith Slape told Boozman that the county has yet to receive any federal funding for its new jail, though it has made several applications, including to "Rural Development" (presumably USDA) and the U.S. Marshal Service.  The Sheriff said, "It will make me take a hard look at federal arrestees from the park and forest service when they come into the jail."  Slape said the county will need $170,000 "to make all the finishing touches" to the facility, beyond the funds already secured from a sales tax levy and a $65,000 grant from the state.

The County Judge (chief administrative officers) Warren Campbell discussed with Boozman relations between the county and the National Park Service.  Campbell said that the Park Service wants him to close about 20 miles of county roads in relation to elk habitat, but told Boozman "We're not going to do that."  One Justice of the Peace (county commissioner) complained that the Park Service had money to pave a much used road to a popular destination in the park, Steel Creek,  but did not do so.  He commented, "If they would make some good sense every now and then it would help us to respect them."  While the U.S. Forest Service will pay some of the costs of maintaining county roads within its boundaries, the U.S. Park Service will not.

Sheriff Slape told Boozman of a "five day rescue operation on the river last year where some conflicts arose.  'It got pretty ugly a couple of times.'"

Federal-local conflicts were also manifest in other news in that January 11, 2012 issue of the paper:
  • The Newton County Quorum Court heard opposition in January to the U.S. Forest Service's proposed expansion of elk habitat into the Bearcat Hollow area.  Shawn Porter of Parthenon said his opposition was due to the absence of any environmental impact study of the elks' impact on the native forest ecosystem.  Porter asserted that the forest service is using the elk "to justify increased forest clear cutting, bulldozing, herbicide use, and burning of tens of thousands of acres in the Richland Creek and Buffalo River watershed."  He stated:  "It's stupid to bring big game in an area that won't support it without making pasture," adding that the relevant government agencies "have to grow crops for elk to survive here."  The Quorum Court did not act on a proposed letter that Porter presented to them.  Porter noted that the Bearcat Hollow Project is also opposed by the Newton County Wildlife Association, the Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club and the Buffalo River Chapter of the Ozarks Society.  
  • Local officials are discussing the need to clean up the Little Buffalo River where it runs through the town of Jasper.  The concern is that "unchecked growth of trees and brush that have grown int eh middle of the river channel where gravel has washed in recent years" could cause or aggravate flooding.  The "Game & Fish consultant" told local officials that gravel removal would not be allowed without clearance from, among other agencies, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
In other news:
  • Western Grove's City Council voted to increase water rates by $2 per 1000 gallons.  Within the city limits, the new minimum rate will be $10.25 per 1000 gallons.  Rural customers will pay $11.25 per 1000 gallons while commercial customers will pay $21.75 for the first 6000 gallons. 
  • The Jasper School District received a $4000 grant from the Midwest Dairy Council as part of its Fuel Up to Play 60 program.  The program is designed to help schools jump-start and sustain healthy nutrition and physical activity improvements.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mark Bittman's tribute to Wendell Berry

Don't miss Mark Bittman's post in the New York Times, based on a visit to Berry's Port Royal, Kentucky home.  Bittman tells of Berry driving him around the neighboring countryside, where Berry's family settled about two centuries ago.  Bittman observes Berry's familiarity with his neighbors, manifest in his wave at nearly everyone they meet.  Regarding the drive, Bittman continues:
There really is not that much to see [on the drive] until I try to see it through Wendell's eyes, and then every bit of erosion becomes a tiny tragedy--or at least a human mistake--and every bit of forest floor becomes a bit of the genius of nature.  
Bittman waxes poetic--as does Berry--about the need to "listen to the land."  Indeed, Berry's work--whether poetry, fiction, or activism--is very much grounded in the land.  Berry's work also reflects "his attachment to nature--it's not just the land but everything on the land--that is so profound that his judgments (Wendell is a kind but very judgmental man) can be jaw-dropping."

Berry's work is also grounded in "place"--his own strong sense of place, his attachment to place.   And that grounding in place implicates not only the land, but also "its people."  Among other things, this means that, to Berry, rural people matter.

Bittman asked Berry what urban people can do to change the current course of events, the march of industrialism that replaces people with technology and concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a plutocracy.  Like Bittman's question, Berry's answer invokes the rural-urban divide:
The main thing is realize that country people can't invest a better agriculture by ourselves.  Industrial agriculture wasn't invented by us, and we can't uninvent it.  We'll need some help with that.    
I'm not sure "country people" are entirely without blame for the current state of affairs--either industrial agriculture or the plutocracy--but I agree that  rural folks desiring a reversal of course will need "some help" from urbanites and the powerful interests that reside primarily in the cities of our nation and the world.

N.B.  I note that on the afternoon of 25 April, Bittman's column was the second most emailed item on  This morning, 26 April, 2012, it is still at number.  Could NYTimes reader possibly be taking Berry's ideas seriously?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scofflaw versus code enforcers in Marin County

The headline in yesterday's New York Times reads, "In Hippie Holdout, a Fight Over Worms and Moats," and the tale is of David Lee Hoffman, who has for many years been building without permits in Lagunitas, California.  Here's a summary:
For the last 40 years, Mr. Hoffman, 67, an entrepreneur who specializes in rare aged tea leaves, ha been building a Chinese- and Tibetan-inspired compound on a steep hill in this unincorporated hippie holdover in western Marin County where the general store has a community piano and sells clothing "made with peace and love."  
The village has long prided itself on its pristine beauty and live-and-let-live attitude.  But that was before the bitter dispute that pitted Mr. Hoffman, with his unconventional techniques for living in what he calls a sustainable way, against county code enforcers whose demands for permits he has repeatedly ignored.  
Journalist Patricia Leigh Brown uses two rural-esque images to describe Hoffman's complex: "part Himalayan kingdom, part Dogpatch rife with construction debris."  (If the Dogpatch allusion is lost on you, read this)

Among the practices (and related structures) that have gotten Mr. Hoffman and his wife into trouble with Marin County officials are compost toilets ("self-contained chambers with a worm-composting system").  These are not permitted in Marin County--which includes several high-rent incorporated areas north of San Francisco.  Hoffman's manner of disposing and recycling waste, vermicomposting, involves "colonies of worms, micro-organisms and carbon-rich leaves turn[ing] waste into humus."   The county is concerned that if the "moat" involved in this vermicomposting overflows, it would contaminate a nearby salmon creek.  The matter is now in the hands of a state administrative law judge.

Brown offers this closing quote form a Marin County Supervisor, Steve Kinsey, who suggests "the affair may require some alternative thinking."
It's an expression of complete and blatant disregard for collaborating with authorities.  But it is also the life work of a creative individual.   Marin has a history of noncormfority.  We want to keep it that way.
This reference to nonconformity reminds me a quote from Karl Marx, who refers to the "idiocy" of rural life, but explains that by this her refers to the nonconformity and privacy associated with rural living, contrasting that city folk, who are more conformist.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XCVIII): Catching up

The April 4, 2012 issue of the Newton County Times reviews recently adjudicated criminal cases. They include:
  • 27-year old woman charged with helping steal a 2005 F150 Ford pick up truck pled guilty to an amended charge of misdemeanor theft of property.  
  • A 41-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor.  The charges are based on testimony the two smoked methamphetamine in front of their two small children.  At the same time, one of the children was seen to have sores on one leg and a burn on one arm.  The cases have been transferred to district court.
  • A 25-year old man was sentenced to 121 months in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections after reaching a plea agreement to multiple drug offenses, including attempted manufacture of methamphetamine.  The defendant was observed last summer traveling to stores in Missouri and Arkansas to purchase lithium batteries, ammonium nitrate and other ingredients used to purchase methamphetamine.  The man allegedly told an undercover agent with the Arkansas State Police that he would "cook" some meth and sell it to the agent.  During the attempt, the shed the man was using as "a lab exposed and caught fire due to an open flame igniting some solvents. ... The mixture was ruined."  The same man has been charged with three counts of delivery of methamphetamine.  The man was also fined $1000 and ordered to pay court costs.  
  • A 22-year-old man was arrested for being in possession of a car stolen in Missouri.  The car continued drug paraphernalia.  The man was sentenced to a year of probation and fined and ordered to pay costs totaling $1320.  
  • A 43-year-old man was sentenced to seven years in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections and fined $1000 in relation to his burglary of a Murray home.  The burglary was interrupted with the owner of the home returned, and the man got into a physical altercation with a man accompanying the owner.  The man convicted of the crime has also been ordered to pay $465 in restitution.  A case against a woman who accompanied the man in the burglary has  not yet been adjudicated.
  • A 19-year-old man was sentenced to 6 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections after he pleaded guilty to manufacture of methamphetamine and criminal trespass.   He was also fined $1000 and ordered to pay court costs.  
  • A claim against Jerrimie Brown, previous charged with theft of property, was dismissed after investigation revealed the underlying matter to be a civil dispute.  
  • A 31-year-old man was charged with non-support and placed on probation for three years.  He must pay restitution in the amount of $16,903.64.
In other news, the county got the first of its "911 signs."  These signs mark roads according to the new 911 addressing system.  The truck being used to erect the signs is "specially outfitted" for this purpose and "was provided through grant funds awarded to the county."  The story does not report the source of those funds but indicates that Newton County is the "last in the state to replace route and HCR box numbers with physical addresses countywide."

Also, the April 18, 2012 issue of the paper reports that the Sheriff is offering a $1000 reward for evidence leading to those responsible for a rash of suspicious fires.  To date, the fires have destroyed nine structures--eight unoccupied houses and a trailer that was formerly used to store hay.  Most of the structures have been family homesteads with "historic value to their families" the Sheriff explained.  Some members of those families are cooperating to offer the reward.  Meanwhile, the Sheriff is intensifying patrols in the part of the county where most of the fires have occurred, specifically Vendor, Hasty and Mt. Judea.  

Nebraska Legislature takes up, then drops, Indian alcohol issue

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published this update on a bill in the Nebraska legislature that would "allow the authorities to establish 'alcohol impact zones' in areas prone to alcohol-related crime."  It appears that the bill is dead, and the New York Times suggests that campaign contributions from alcohol interests to the members of the Nebraska General Affairs Committee play a significant role in killing it.  Alcohol companies and their lobbyists are among the largest donors to members of the Committee, having donated more than $21,000 to their campaigns over five years.  Anheuser-Busch alone has donated to the campaigns of seven of the eight Committee members, and it has donated more than $120,000 to the campaigns of Nebraska officials since 2002.

I wrote this blog post a few weeks ago about Whiteclay, Nebraska, the most obvious candidate for "alcohol impact zone" status.  My post relies heavily on this New York Times story about a lawsuit the Oglala Sioux have filed against beer distributors and beer sellers in Whiteclay.  The Sioux argue that the sale of excessive amounts of beer--especially high-alcohol beer--in Whiteclay is causing problems on their reservation, which is a "dry," or alcohol-prohibition area.  Although Whiteclay has fewer than a dozen residents, four stores there sell alcohol, and they generated $360,000 in state and federal excise taxes in 2011, down from $414,000 in 2010.

The alcohol impact zones that the Committee has been considering have been used in various cities, including Memphis and Seattle, to limit store hours and prohibit the sale of single beers.  They may also ban the purchase of high-alcohol products like Hurricane High Gravity.

A study in Washington state showed that the impact zones actually increased sales at some liquor stores because of the drop in inebriation on the streets.  Also, alcohol-related calls to the police fell after the impact zones were established.  "The most significant part is that people felt better about their neighborhoods," according to an official in Washington state.  As for the first outcome, it might not be true of Whiteclay, of course, since few people other than the Oglala Sioux are around to buy the alcohol.  On the other hand, the few folks resident in Whiteclay, along with the Sioux, would presumably feel better about their neighborhood.

One of the state senators, Russ Karpisek, who accepts contributions from alcohol interests acknowledged the state's interests in effectively containing the problem in Whiteclay rather than "pushing it down the road 35-40 miles."

The Sheridan County Sheriff, Terry Robbins, whose office has primary responsibility for law enforcement in Whiteclay, said his office had "installed a security camera to help the police with live surveillance of the remote Whiteclay area, but it could not afford a taping device."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Urban looking out for rural? in context of reproductive health

This article reports that three Planned Parenthood branches--in North Texas, Austin and Waco--are joining together to form Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, a $29 million/year, 26-clinic organization that will be better able to serve nonmetropolitan areas by "connect[ing] the fund-raising powerhouses concentrated in North Texas with endangered clinics throughout the 58,000 square-mile region and beyond."  The story doesn't use the terms "rural" or "nonmetropolitan," but it does suggest the metro-nonmetro divide--and the struggle to provide abortion services in less densely populated areas--in that prior quote and in this one:
What sets Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas apart it its size, in both geography and scope.  Its reach will extent from southern Austin up to Denton, from Tyler in East Texas west to Forth Worth.  In 2013, its 26 clinics--four will provide abortions--expect an estimated 180,000 patient visits.  They will provide birth control for 103,000 people, perform 8,500 abortions and screen tens of thousands of women for great cancer and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.
I have written about spatial inequality in relation to abortion access here.

Wyoming town sells for $900,000

Dan Frosh reported a few weeks ago in the New York Times on the sale of unincorporated Buford, Wyoming for $900,000.  Dan Sammons, formerly of Newport Beach, California, has owned the 10-acre town since 1992, when he bought it from a New Jersey family for $155,000.  The town, which Frosh refers to as "a windswept Wyoming outpost just off Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie" consists of a gas station, trading post and cafe that attracts as many as 1000 visitors a day.  In the 1800s, Buford was a thriving railroad outpost of 2,000.   Indeed, Sammons converted what had been the town's schoolhouse into his office.

Frosh notes that the "sale drew interest from people around the world who dreamed of owning a bucolic American town on the edge of the frontier."  The purchaser of Buford is an anonymous Vietnamese man who issued this statement through his broker:
Owning a piece of property in the U.S. has been my dream ... So, I decided to make a trip to Wyoming, to bid on-site.  It was a long journey but I made it at last.  It is the American dream.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Bigfoot" expedition encounters legal troubles

My mother forwarded a report about this expedition a few weeks ago, and then the item appeared as a front page story in the most recent issue of the Newton County Times. A man named Matt Pruitt--no relation as far as I know--was cited by the U.S. Park Service for failure to have a permit when he brought a group of paying customers into the Buffalo National River Park to search for Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch. Park Rangers cited Pruitt when they found him with 31 "Sasquatch seekers at the Steel Creek campground near Ponca" in February. Here's an excerpt from the story in The Republic, out of Columbus, Indiana:
Pruitt explained that he was leading an expedition for The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, which has 24 expeditions planned this year in the United States and Canada.

The participants in Pruitt's Arkansas expedition had paid between $300 and $500 apiece to search for Sasquatch, according to a National Parks Service incident report.... That basically made Pruitt a "concessionaire," similar to those who rent canoes or operate other business in the park.

Normally the group would have been asked to leave the park, but since some had traveled from far away to look for Bigfoot, the park rangers let them stay.
The expedition was three days long, and Pruitt paid a $525 fine. Pruitt told reporters that he has led Sasquatch expeditions in 18 states, and he ranks Arkansas "in the top three for Sasquatch activity." He reported "sounds that were indicative of Sasquatch" in the Buffalo National River Park, "Characteristic vocalizations. Very compelling observations."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is "rural Tulsa" an oxymoron?

I've noted that recent New York Times coverage of the tragic racially-motivated killings in Tulsa, Oklahoma has repeatedly referred to "rural Tulsa." Given that Tulsa is a major metropolitan area, I found this phrase incongruous and thought it worthy of further attention. Tulsa County has a population of 603,403, and a population density of 1058/square mile. It is part of the Tulsa, OK Metropolitan area, which includes nearly 950,000 people in a seven-county area.

The first recent NYT reference to "rural Tulsa" was in this story, reporting on the arrest of two men in random shootings that left three African Americans dead in north Tulsa. The story features a photo of the home the suspects shared, with a caption that reads: "Jacob C. England's home in rural Tulsa, where Alvin Watts lived with him." The photo is of a small house with a fence behind it, and no other homes in sight. Several large trees are visible, one in what would be considered the "front yard." The presence of the fence actually makes the property look less rural to me, because it suggests that space alone does not do the work of separating the house from its neighbors.

The second NYT story to use "rural" to refer Tulsa uses it in a way very similar to the first. Here's the quote, from the last paragraph of the story reporting on the suspects' arraignment.
Mr. England and Mr. Watts were friends and roommates, and they lived at Mr. England's house in a rural part of Tulsa.
Finally, this third story explains a bit more about the north Tulsa milieu in which the shootings took place--and in which racial tensions have run high since the Tulsa race riots of 1921, in which a mob of white Tulsans burned and destroyed a black neighborhood, killing several African American residents. Here's an excerpt from the story by Manny Fernandez that refers to the patois of rural and urban:
In the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred, about six miles from downtown Tulsa, the streets twist and turn with both a rural and urban feel. It is not unusual to see a man working under a car or a man riding a horse.
I suppose that the "man riding a horse" is supposed to represent the rural, but what about the "man working under a car"? Is that meant to suggest rural or urban? I'm guessing the former, but I'm not sure.

Fernandez goes on to describe a bleak socioeconomic milieu--an area "hard hit by crime, drugs, poverty, unemployment and commercial abandonment" where the median income is about $25 to $30K and nearly 1000 homes and businesses sit abandoned in the "two City Council districts that make up north Tulsa."

All of this leads me to ponder, at what scale do/should we define or assess rurality? the block or census tract level--which would seem to be what the NYT is doing in this story? the county? Or, as the New York Times often uses the term, to refer to an entire state? I guess it depends on the context. But I wonder what the use of the modifier suggests in this context? Is that we can expect such racially motivated criminals to live in or hail from "rural" settings?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Court-ordered basketball in nonmetropolitan Tennessee

A story in today's New York Times reports on a somewhat novel effort by juvenile justice authorities in Carroll County, Tennessee to meet the educational needs of "troubled" youth there, and to get them on a better, more productive life path--and back to "regular school." The story is headlined "Court-ordered Basketball and No Fans," and the school it features is the Carroll Academy, "A State-Licensed Facility for Grades 6-12 Operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court."

The school was founded about 20 years ago by Judge Larry Logan of the county's juvenile court. He was frustrated at the lack of options he had for disciplining teenagers: probation or state custody, the latter meaning foster care or reform school. Logan developed Carroll Academy as a "middle road," and the school was founded with a $1.45 million grant from Tennessee's Department of Children's Services. It continues to operate on a much smaller budget, out of what was once the wing of a hospital. One of the novel aspects of it is that students there--the vast majority are boys and young men--are required to play basketball for the school's team, the Jaguars.

Journalist John Branch focuses, in this installment of a series of articles about the school, on the girls basketball team, which hasn't won a game since 2006. This isn't terribly surprising since most of the young women are novices, not having played basketball before coming to Carroll Academy. The turnover in the school's population is no doubt another significant factor. This "basketball as punishment" model reminded me of a couple of things. One is how basketball crazy these parts of the rural south are; I know because I grew up in a similar place--where many schools are too small to field a football team, making basketball king. This means that most girls play basketball--and being a good basketball player can be a ticket to popularity. So, I guess it is not surprising that these girls who end up in the juvenile justice system were not the basketball-playing types before getting to Carroll Academy.

Carroll Academy is in Huntingdon, Tennessee, population 4,349. Huntingdon is the county seat of Carroll County, a non metropolitan county with a population of about 28,000. But Carroll Academy, with between 70 and 100 students at any given time, serves four counties in addition to Carroll County. This sharing of juvenile justice services no doubt helps justify the school, achieving an economy of scale that no single county could alone.

Branch paints a depressing portrait of this slice of northwest Tennessee, noting that manufacturing jobs (mostly in the garment industry) that formerly anchored the economy have dried up, making double-digit unemployment a new "normal." The population in this part of Tennessee, where median household incomes are about $30K and only about 15% of adults have a college degree, has been stagnant in recent years. Branch also notes the persistent problem of drugs, including methamphetamine and prescription abuse. While Tennessee had the highest number of meth lab seizures among all states in 2010, Carroll County had twice as many per capita as the rest of Tennessee. Meanwhile, Tennessee has the highest number of prescriptions per capita in the country and the sixth highest rate of youth aged 12-17 who abuse pain medications. Having provided this bleak statistical background, Branch characterizes the place through which the Carroll Academy vans "meandered" to pick up students as a "quiet, complex setting."
They picked up students, some an hour away, and returned past the scrubby trailers along two-lane roads and the tidy brick homes along High Street ...
Sad as this depiction is, the story features several uplifting angles. It suggests the positive impact that organized sports can have on the young men and women at Carroll Academy, many of them from troubled families--families who rarely attend their basketball games. That's the "no fans" part of the headline.

Future stories in this series promise to interview parents and students, and I'm looking forward to reading them, tissue in hand.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alternative Spring Break in Indian Country

Over spring break a few weeks ago, 17 students from UC Davis School of Law took an alternative spring break trip to assist underserved communities in the American Southwest. The students participated in the trip through the Humanitarian Aid Legal Organization (HALO), a UC Davis law student organization that is committed to providing legal and humanitarian aid. Each year, HALO organizes an alternative spring break trip that facilitates students' volunteer work with legal aid organizations in parts of the country struck by natural disasters, persistent poverty, and other crises.

This year HALO was able to serve multiple communities. Seven students spent their week at Utah Legal Services in St. George, Utah, while ten students volunteered with DNA People's Legal Services (DNA) in northern Arizona and New Mexico. DNA's mission is to provide legal services to low-income Native Americans. I participated in the Arizona portion of the trip and found the areas we explored to be quite beautiful- and also very rural. Growing up in California the images I associate with Indians are casinos. I encountered a very different scene in Arizona, however, where not a casino was in sight. Instead sunset-red rocks, woods, and grand mesas greeted us as we arrived on the reservations.

We spent most of the week at DNA's main office in Window Rock, Arizona, population 2,712. After taking an online course, the IRS certified seven of us as volunteers under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which permitted us to assist clients in completing their tax returns. Three other students spent the week doing legal aid work on issues related to property, public benefits, and consumer law. Some of our students also traveled to Chinle and Keams Canyon, Arizona and to Crownpoint, New Mexico to provide tax and other legal assistance. In some locations demand for tax assistance was so great that we had to turn potential clients away. Our week with DNA illustrated the great demand for these services.

We encountered many native people who were low-income in the Navajo Nation, also known as the Navajo reservation. Some of the reservation lies within persistent poverty counties- Apache and Navajo counties. Given that information, I was expecting poverty to be more evident. Many of the homes on the Navajo Nation were manufactured or self-made but did not seem particularly dilapidated. My conclusion is that part of the poverty probably was not as evident due to the fact we were in town and much of the reservation is very rural. While on a tour of the Hubbell Trading Post, a famous trading post on the Navajo reservation, I learned that Navajo culture is one reason for the rural nature of the reservation. My understanding is that, Navajo people live with a great deal of open space between residences. A majority of the Navajo population lived dispersed across the reservation, which is the largest reservation in the United States. This reminded me of how some non-native rural people prefer to live miles from the nearest neighbors.

On our drive back from Window Rock we drove through the Hopi reservation and encountered a different situation. While the population was still sparse, on top of many of the mesas were small villages where people lived close together. The poverty was much more evident and it felt more like a developing country. Some homes were decaying to an extent that made habitation surprising. Many of the homes also had windows and doors boarded up. The view from the top of the mesa was spectacular as vast miles of red desert spread out in every direction. We were not allowed to take pictures or tour the village as we might step on sacred land unknowingly or make the locals feel like tourist attractions. I was not surprised at these tribal regulations given the many years of disrespectful behavior by visitors.

The poverty I witnessed was distressing and I questioned who should try to alleviate it. Is it the federal or state government's responsibility because they helped to put Native peoples in these positions? Individuals like myself who have little understanding of the culture? Tribal governments or non-profits like DNA because they understand native culture, traditions and world-views? Some combination? I know DNA and other community-driven organizations should be a part of the answer. What I appreciated about the organization was that both native and non-native attorneys and tribal advocates staff it. The non-native attorneys took care to respect the Navajo culture. In addition they used some legal remedies that are distinctly Navajo, such as peacemaking, a form of dispute resolution. I hope advocates at DNA continue to make strides in the fight against poverty on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Many times on the trip I felt as though I was in a different country and questioned to what extent I could make a difference. Almost everyone around me was either Navajo or Hopi. Many people spoke Navajo, a language I had never heard. It was remarkable to feel like such an outsider within the borders of the United States. I found that the distinct cultures on the reservations are hard for outsiders to penetrate. While this situation is similar to that of other rural communities where outsiders may have a hard time assimilating or effectively providing services, the history between Native peoples and white people in this part of the Southwest creates an even greater cultural rift. I recommend that if one plans to visit or work on an Indian reservation, he or she become acquainted with the basics of the tribe's culture and not expect to make any immediate changes.

Overall, the trip was an enlightening and educational experience, and I hope we were able to have positive impacts in the lives of some DNA clients. I greatly encourage everyone to visit the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservation. My experience changed my perspective of what a reservation is and what it means to be Native American. To date, this is the most thought-provoking spring break I have experienced.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Carpetbagger judge?

A story in the Sacramento Bee this week reported that two men are challenging El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Warren Stracener in his bid for re-election. A couple of angles on the story attracted my attention. The first is the rural vs. urban angle. That is, Stracener was appointed to the judgeship by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, and that apparently leaves him with an urban "taint" of sorts. The story states that Stracener, who previously worked for the Department of Personnel Administration, had a role in the "furlough fights under Schwarzenegger," implying that the judgeship was a politcal favor of sorts. Stracener believes that this has "marked him as something of an outsider."

People assume that because you're appointed by someone from Sacramento, you must be in lock step with those values.

Stracener does not specify what values are Sacramento values and what values might be representative of neighboring El Dorado County. He does say, however, that he's "a true conservative and has lived in the county since 1996." (Photo above is of a campaign sign for an El Dorado County Commissioner spot, with the candidate also claiming what might be called the "rural high ground." Again, the "rural values" go unenumerated.)

Later, the story features comments from the two candidates opposing Stracener, Joseph Hoffman and Stephen Valentine.

Hoffman cites the problem of inconsistent rulings from the bench, which diminish the efficiency with which the court operates because attorneys don't know what to expect.

Valentine, who has been a solo practitioner in Cameron Park since 1995, says he has handled a variety of cases, in addition to having served as a Commissioner, "a kind of court arbiter lower than a judge." Valentine is quoted:
I think a judge needs to be well rounded in all areas of the law in a rural county.
Maybe so, but El Dorado County is arguably not rural. It's part of the Sacramento MSA and boasts a population of 181,058, and a population density of 106/square mile.

I suppose alternative titles for this post might have been "Trying to out-rural one another" or "The rural generalist."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Managing drug abuse in Kentucky

I was in Kentucky for a few days this past week to give talks at the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky law schools. This gave me the opportunity to travel some of Kentucky's less traveled roads (namely route 60 between Louisville and Lexington)--and also to read some Kentucky newspapers (not to mention getting caught up in a touch of NCAA Final 4 madness). One story I read in Lexington's Herald-Leader was headlined, "Meth, pain-pill measures win approval." It reported on two bills "designed to tackle Kentucky's problems with methamphetamine labs and prescription drug abuse." The story quotes House speaker Greg Stumbo as stating that "the two measures could become the landmark legislation of this year's General Assembly."

By a 60-36 vote, the Kentucky House approved Senate Bill 3, "which would further limit the amount of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine that consumers could buy without a prescription. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient used in making meth."

This bill would require residents to get a doctor's prescription to buy more than 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine a month and 24 grams/year. "Gel caps and liquid pseudoephedrine would be excluded form the limits of SB 3 because making meth form those forms is considered more difficult." Sponsors of the bill initially wanted even lower limits on purchase of the substance, but they ultimately compromised with those who were more concerned not to create an inconvenience for allergy sufferers. The journalist noted that the pharmaceutical industry had lobbied hard against any requirement for a prescription. On the other hand, those supporting SB 3 offered "horror stories" about children and police officers "put at risk by toxic, explosive meth labs." In the past, the legislature has agreed to restrict pseudoephedrine sales by tracing them electronically, requiring a signature and photo-identification for purchase, and placing the pills in secure areas behind store counters. But that didn't solve the meth lab problem, so now even more restrictions are coming," according to one opponent of SB 3, who sees it as unduly infringing on civil liberties.

"Meanwhile, the Senate approved House Bill 4, which transfers from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Service to the attorney general's office an electronic monitoring system that keeps track of prescriptions for pain pills. The vote was 26-9." This bill will "more closely regulate pain clinics." One of its key provisions will transfer oversight of "the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program" to the Attorney General's office. Previously, health care professionals oversaw the program, a system that has not worked well.

Both bills are likely to go to conference committees to negotiate differences in the two chambers' version of the bills.